Dawn Freshwater should take a pay cut. Actually, not just Dawn, but the entire university executive team. No discredit to Dawn, her deputy vice-chancellors, pro-vice-chancellors and the senior leadership team. I respect the work they’ve done in leading the University through this time. Their leadership has been commendable, and I understand the need to compensate people for their time and expertise. But in the current economic climate, their salaries are untenable.
An OIA request in February confirmed that Dawn Freshwater’s salary for 2020 is $755,000. This salary places her in the top tier of public sector executive salaries. By comparison, Grant Guilford, the Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University of Wellington, was paid $587,000 in 2019. Guilford has committed to a 20% pay cut. This pay is being collected for a Staff Hardship Fund.
The University has already committed to an extensive business recovery plan. The loss of international students and their prized enrolment fees have left the University with a shortfall. Combined with a loss of stock value from the university’s investments and increased costs in adjusting to online learning, the university is facing relative financial difficulty. But ultimately, this highlights the issue with modern universities. They’re businesses, not just educational institutions. I could start on why this is wrong, but that isn’t going to solve the situation currently facing the University.
So why should Dawn, John, Jim, Jenny, Adrienne, Cindy, Damon, Trudie and the rest of the team take a pay cut? Not only is it a show of solidarity with the financial hardship faced by members of the university community, but it’s also one step in many in recovering university costs. While the university has refused to release salary details for the Deputy and Pro-Vice Chancellors, I can speak for Dawn’s salary. 1% of her salary is equivalent to $7500. If she matches 20% like Grant Guilford, she can put $150,000 into the university funds. Maybe then we could afford to save some programmes such as New Start – a foundation programme where staff have been asked to essentially work for free.
Have a great semester, welcome back to campus
Earlier this year, when the economic effects of COVID-19 were just beginning to be felt by the nation as a whole, a number of university staff working on New Start – a programme which helps disadvantaged students get ahead – found an innocuous-looking email in their inbox.
The email explained that the university was suffering from a drop in the number of international enrolments. This meant a drop in revenues for the year, which meant, in turn, that the university was investigating “ways to reduce costs and make savings”. Unfortunately, the email said, “one of these ways is to reduce staff costs”.
The email explained that any staff reading it would no longer be paid. But don’t worry – those staff hadn’t lost their jobs. Instead, the university would be “asking [them] … to continue teaching without remuneration”.
Yes, you read that correctly. Earlier this year, the university cut staff pay and asked them to work for free. Not only that, but they did it over email. That, in my opinion, is absolute fucking bullshit. It’s bullshit in any context, but extremely bullshit when you consider that the university executives have yet to take on a pay-cut themselves.
And why haven’t they? University executives have taken a cut at all other New Zealand universities. Moreover, as Cameron points out, our executive can afford to forgo a little bit of cash – Dawn alone earns $60,000 every month (that’s $15,000 more than the average Kiwi earns in a year), on top of the $5 million mansion she was given as a signing-on gift.
A 20% pay-cut to Dawn’s salary would give the university an extra $150,000 to play with; money that could be spent on improving facilities, paying staff, creating funds for student’s mental health, or paying down debts. In the meantime, Dawn would still have approximately $600,000 left over to fritter away as she sees fit. (For context, that’s enough for roughly 75,000 Shadows jugs, 120,000 vegan lunches, or 2 and a half textbooks from Ubiq. She would hardly be left starving.) A 30% pay-cut would be do even more for the university, and it would leave Dawn with a cool half-a-million dollars to take home.
The university leadership team are paid to lead the university, and part of being a good leader is showing you have the courage and conviction to practice what you preach. It’s high time Dawn and the rest of the leadership team put their money where their mouth is, and took a pay-cut.