Not All About the Benjamins


OPENWIDE Volume 16 Issue 1

President Chakma’s double-dip scandal is more than just the money

 

This past April, amidst stressed students and stacks of exams, Western’s administration also had a lot on their plate. The annual release of the Sunshine List (a list that discloses public employees that make $100,000 or more) revealed that our president, Amit Chakma, received double his original salary of $440,000. Legally, it honoured his contract. He received his bonus because he worked through a scheduled one-year leave. This double-dip scandal, informally known as “Chakmagate,” stirred up controversy among students, faculty, and the general public. However, if we choose to understand this controversy through what was written in a contract we fail to see the bigger issue and the real reason it got the response it did.

 

Chirag Shah, chair of the Board of Governors, tried to defend the decision claiming that the double payment is usual among other comparable universities. This statement lost some credibility when The Free Press contacted 10 major Canadian universities and could not find one that double-paid its top executive. The issue though was not whether he deserved the money, but the fact that the Board of Governors skirted around the freezing of public salaries with a “professional bonus.”

 

Chakma eventually gave back the bonus and agreed to an investigation, among other initiatives such as a 100-day listening tour of Western. However, the money and Chakma are symbols for greater problems within the university.

 

Chakmagate was not a scandal, but just another crack in a broken system.

Issues like this defy simplification – the university does not operate in a vacuum. It is influenced by greater trends in our economy, in our society, in our world. This article is not about understanding what happened last April, it’s about asking you to think about the university differently. Faculty, students, and the greater public did not protest at a Senate meeting because they were angry that someone was making more money than them. They were protesting larger issues concerning the management of the university.

 

Public funding for universities have decreased across the board, but Western remains in strong financial standing. With increased enrollment, a massive surplus, and a slew of expensive projects (like the new FIMS building), everything seems peachy. However, Western’s relatively new strategic plan is open to interpretation that can see some faculties receiving more funding than others creating a cannibalizing competitive atmosphere that decreases the focus on academics. Increasing budget cuts during a time of surplus begs the question “who’s making the decisions?” On top of this, the Purple and Poor scandal revealed that adjunct/part-time professors and TAs rarely receive a living wage. Although Western-UWOFA (University of Western Ontario Faculty Association) contract negotiations appeased everyone for the meantime, working conditions for those so vital to this institution are nowhere near the value they bring to it.

 

This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg – Western’s rebrand cost $200,000 to officially change its name to one everybody already thought it was. The decrease in public funding resulted in a need to make up for lost revenue through increased enrollment.

All the exercises in branding – a university of spectacle not substance – aim to attract students to our institution versus others.

As you read this, note that all these issues are greater than the words I’m using to describe them. They’re full of complexities and need to be understood from various angles –  not just the typical student’s.

 

Only time will tell if Chakma’s listening campaign was just a PR stunt. His update included many steps that will see task forces/committees branching out to tackle issues brought up, but we must remember that the university is not solely run by our president, but by other administration members who must be held accountable as well.

 

This piece is meant to enlighten, not frighten. It is meant de-romanticize our view of “higher education” and realize that the modern university is not without its problems. It is meant to shift the spotlight from students to the many more who make up the university. See past the purple and proud, Western is great – but it could be better.

 

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