Debatable: Should the Vice Chancellorís Salary be Removed?

Debatable: Should the Vice Chancellorís Salary be Removed?

Debatable is a column written by the Otago University Debating Society. The Debating Society welcomes new members and meets at the Business School every Tuesday at 6pm.


With the fucked-up state of academic institutions across the world in a neoliberal system where the Uni is run like a business, the relationship between the Vice Chancellor and the student body has degraded. How do we fix this? Simply remove the salary of the Vice Chancellor. Make it a labour of love, not of profit.

The obvious pitfall of making the Vice Chancellor a voluntary position is the inevitable exclusion of people who are not financially able, thus leaving the remaining majority stale, pale, and (for the most part) male. What we hopefully gain in return for this fundamentally increased potential to be an out-of-touch Suit is a revitalised spirit to take up the position for the sake of the next generation of Otago breathas. 

But volunteers are still subject to fault, still subject to motivations outside of what’s best for
today’s uni pest, and subject to Otago’s mysterious selection process. If we were to defund the position for the sake of purifying intentions and renewing dedication (all that groovy shit), these roles should then be selected by the very people the candidates are giving up pay for. A student-run election makes us all a little less resentful and likely manages the diversity problem better than Otago has for over seven decades (and the student body is NEVER wrong). 


It might be nice to stand on principles and, at a time when our university is financially struggling, it might be tempting to begin the cost-cutting at the top. But removing the salary of our Vice Chancellor is at best pointless and at worst actively harmful to the University going forward. 

Getting the obvious out of the way, the removal of a salary is actively harmful to those who are coming from a poorer background, acting as a barrier to entry and therefore ensuring that the next Vice Chancellor is someone who has existing wealth and who is likely from a privileged background. Removing the salary would reinforce the existing financial barriers that exist in academia and ensure that future Vice Chancellors are less likely to be representative of the population who they are meant to serve. 

The role of Vice Chancellor is exceptionally stressful, especially considering the current state of our university. What sort of candidates are going to take up such a role without being compensated for it? We are likely to see highly skilled and qualified candidates simply opt out, and what's to stop another university from swooping in offering a shit load of cash and a cushy job at a different university? 

Removing the salary of a Vice Chancellor, we’d not only be turning any future Vice Chancellor into a benign fungus who is unlikely to achieve any of the real change necessary to keep Otago thriving; we’d also create a position that is only accessible to the wealthy and privileged ensuring that marginalised groups continue to be excluded from positions of authority. There are better ways to go about selecting a Vice Chancellor, sure. Maybe the selection process should be more transparent, and it goes without saying that the salary could definitely be lower, but as per usual the solution to our woes does not lie in poorly thought out radical change

This article first appeared in Issue 4, 2024.
Posted 6:17pm Sunday 17th March 2024 by Otago University Debating Society.