CAUT/ACPPU Bulletin Online
Western pay scandal sparks demands for governance changes
Western University’s board of governors, president and senior administration are reeling following revelations president Amit Chakma doubled his salary in lieu of taking an administrative leave, while staff positions were cut and class sizes increased.
Angry protesters turned their backs to Chakma during an April 10 senate meeting, as he offered an apology to the university community. It was his first public appearance since the scandal broke March 27.
“I stand before you profoundly humbled by — and deeply sorry for — the events of the past two weeks,” said Chakma. “I ask for your forgiveness.”
Chakma told the crowd of 400 academic staff and students that he would “provide more opportunities for active discussion.” But minutes after he delivered the promise, plain-clothed security officers confiscated a banner held by students that read: “Restore Self-governance: Take Back the University.” Other banners had been taken from students and faculty as they entered the senate meeting. Security also searched purses and bags.
The London, Ontario campus has been wracked by the crisis since Chakma’s nearly $1M salary for 2014 was reported in the provincial “Sunshine List.” The annual disclosure includes the salaries of all public sector workers in Ontario earning more than $100,000.
The scandal deepened after Chirag Shah, chair of Western’s board of governors, told the London Free Press, “The board is very happy … We’re paying a fair and appropriate salary.” Shah also falsely equated the double-dip payment to sabbaticals for tenured faculty.
“It’s a slap in the face,” said Alison Hearn, president of the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association. “The board and senior administration are completely disengaged from the university community. We need substantive governance changes, so that the university’s core mission of teaching and research can be served. The current top-down, secretive, and non-consultative senior administration has to stop.”
A week into the crisis, faculty association members passed a non-confidence motion in both Shah and Chakma by a vote of 94 per cent. A public petition on change.org declaring non-confidence in both the president and board chair has collected almost 6,000 signatures. Following the president’s promise to hold 100 days of consultation with students and academic staff, Noahconfidenze — the pseudonym used by the people who launched the change.org petition — started a tumblr blog. It promises to post one comment or letter or link a day for the next 100 days as an “alternative listening tour.”
After days of blistering criticism from students and faculty, Chakma responded by saying he would return half of his 2014 salary, while the board announced it had retained a former justice to conduct a review of board decisions to sign two deals with Chakma that allowed him to forgo a year of leave and double his salary.
Neither move stemmed the anger vented by many students and faculty, leading to the dramatic April 10 senate showdown. “The salary controversy has been the match that has gone into the bucket of gasoline,” said Andrew Nelson, associate dean of social sciences, and one of the faculty members given a chance to question Chakma at the senate meeting. “I’m not convinced your leadership is the best thing going forward.”
A special meeting of Western’s senate was scheduled for April 17 to discuss a formal motion of non-confidence in both Chirag Shah, chair of the board of governors, and president Amit Chakma.
In a public letter, the faculty association executive has asked for “an independent, objective and full review of the state of governance at Western, including the operations of the senate and the board of governors.”