The salaries of dozens of senior management positions at Memorial University have been slashed by an average of $20,000, but those currently occupying the jobs will not be affected.
This comes following an external review that determined management salaries at Newfoundland and Labrador's university were "misaligned" with other universities in Canada.
"It showed while a number of our positions were below the average salaries, there were a substantial number that were above," Stephen Dodge, MUN's director of human resources, told CBC News.
A new salary scale
MUN aims to be in the middle of the pack among Canadian universities when it comes to salaries, said Dodge, but the study found some management positions were being compensated 15 to 20 per cent higher than the national average.
It showed while a number of our positions were below the average salaries, there were a substantial number that were above. - Stephen Dodge
So MUN has adopted a new salary scale for what's called senior administrative management positions, and this sets the stage for a scenario in which new hires can generally expect to be paid thousands less than their predecessors.
There are examples of positions currently paying $190,000 at the highest step, but that has been lowered to $170,000. However, the review also found some positions were in line with the national average, and practically no changes were required.
"We're going to honour the contractual commitments that have been made to the individuals that are currently in the organization. However, for every new person that comes into the organization in these groups, we will be offering the positions on the new salary scales," said Dodge.
The changes impact more than 100 management positions responsible for planning, directing and co-ordinating major programs at MUN. This includes everything from research and student services to facilities management, public engagement and business operations.
Latest hit for managers
It's just the latest hit for this group of managers, with roughly 30 positions removed in recent years as part of a university-wide attrition program to help cope with a tightening fiscal situation.
The university expects to save roughly $1.5 million annually, said Dodge.
So how did this happen? And is it proof of what some critics have described as administrative bloat at MUN?
The simple answer is that salary increases at MUN have been linked to collective bargaining for provincial public sector workers, and that meant some big bumps in pay — more than 20 per cent — during the early part of the last decade.
"That contributed a lot to us outpacing the national market," Dodge said.
Prior to those increases, Dodge said, MUN managers "would have been probably the lowest-paid for this group in the university market in Canada."
It's too early to tell if this will affect recruitment, but so far it hasn't, said Dodge.
He said there's been early success as the university tries to fill a half-dozen management vacancies under the new pay scale.
It's just the latest example of cost-cutting at the university, which has seen its operating grant from the provincial government slashed by millions in recent years.
A longstanding tuition fee freeze for residents of Newfoundland and Labrador has also limited the university's ability to generate revenue, so it's been offering early retirement programs and cutting positions in order to balance its books.
There are roughly 4,000 employees at Memorial University, though more than 100 positions have been eliminated in recent years through attrition and early retirement incentives.
The university also reached new collective agreements with its faculty and other bargaining units last year that largely held the line on salary costs.
"We're trying to make sure that the university fulfils its mandate to the province by getting great people, but we're also recognizing, the board recognizes, that we're also stewards of the public purse. And so we have to balance that," Dodge said.
The latest cuts come as the search for a new MUN president continues, with a replacement for Gary Kachanoski expected to be announced before the end of the year.
According to compensation disclosure documents published in June, Kachanoski was paid just under $470,000 in 2018, making him one of the highest paid public servants in the province.
Kachanoski's salary has sparked controversy in the past, but there's no indication that executive level compensation has come under similar scrutiny.
"I can only speak to this review," said Dodge.
A university official said the next president's compensation will be determined through a negotiation process with the successful applicant.