6 stupid ways student unions used your money

You won’t believe what they’re spending it on

by Josh Dehaas

JalilArfaoui/Flickr

It’s the time of year when most students in Canada ignore posters imploring them to vote for student government executives. Although student unions may seem irrelevant, they’re not. They collect millions of dollars each year in mandatory student fees and spend it, sometimes on things most students wouldn’t support—if only they knew.

Here are six stupid things Canadian student unions did with your money. If this doesn’t motivate you to research the candidates and vote in your campus elections, I don’t know what will.

1. Spent it on big parties you didn’t attend

Avicii, one of the top electronic acts in the world, doesn’t usually show up in places like Windsor, Ont. Snoop Dogg doesn’t often party in St. John’s, Nfld. It should be no surprise then that the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance lost about $40,000 on their show in September and that the Memorial University of Newfoundland Students’ Union lost $100,000 on Snoop. The Kwantlen Student Association may hold the record though. They lost $128,000 on Jay Sean. Jay… who?

2. Lost it selling beer and nachos… to students

Entrepreneurs dream of winning the lease on a pub that thousands of twenty-something students pass daily. Yet, from The Breezeway at Memorial University to AfterMath at the University of the Fraser Valley, student unions are running pubs into the ground, sometimes losing millions.

One of the reasons Koerner’s Pub at the University of British Columbia shut down was because of “tension between the Graduate Student Society and the Canadian Union of Public Employees,” according to The Ubyssey. As a graduate of UBC, I can attest to the fact that Koerner’s unionized pub staff basically refused to serve customers in its dying days. It’s a shame the pub staff was unionized at all considering how many students would kill for jobs on campus with tips.

3. Spent it on partisan political protesters

Angela Regnier, former University of Toronto Students’ Union executive director, was arrested during a demonstration in Toronto where the flag of the terrorist Tamil Tigers was flown. The charges against her were withdrawn, but she managed to get several student unions to commit student money to her legal defense. The Tamil cause continues to fascinate the UTSU.

And let’s not forget how the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa spent an undisclosed amount busing students to protest capitalism at the infamous G20 Summit in Toronto in 2010.

4. Spent it to stifle debate

Universities are supposed to be places where people can fight each other with ideas. Student unions, however, often try to shut down debate. Anti-abortion groups are the favourite target, most recently at Brandon University where the student union is trying to keep a pro-life group out. And when right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter came to the University of Ottawa, the Student Federation at the University of Ottawa helped get her speech cancelled. In December the University of Toronto Students’ Union attempted to shut down a U of T sanctioned speech by a men’s rights advocate.

5. Used it to pay their staff a lot of money

It was recently revealed that McMaster Association of Part-time Students executive director Sam Minniti was paid a salary of $126,151 in 2011 plus a bonus of $12,000 and $101,116 in retroactive pay. Although such high compensation is rare, it is common to see elected student union leaders offer staff members raises and then up benefiting when they’re later hired as staff themselves.

6. Acted flippant after it was stolen

Haanim Nur, one-time president of the University of Regina Students’ Union and executive with the Canadian Federation of Students Saskatchewan, admitted to forging cheques worth $700. Although the money was repaid, both organizations initially refused to call police or recover the money.

What stupid thing did your student union spend money on? Tell us in the comments section.

6 stupid ways student unions used your money

  1. how did Wilfrid Laurier not make the list? other then the 1.4 million dollar bail out we are receiving from the University this year in the past I personally was gifted a $1000 camera with minor damage to the screen it was still under warranty and I had it repaired at no cost

  2. These examples are all a pittance compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars funnelled every year to student newspapers. Amateurish “reporters” with no accountability or professional standards produce garbage not worth the newsprint it’s made on. Maybe Macleans can do an exposé on the junk press on campus–unless that hits too close to home for the pseudo-journalists at Macleans.ca.

  3. These examples are all a pittance compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars funnelled every year to student newspapers. Amateurish “reporters” with no accountability or professional standards produce garbage not worth the newsprint it’s made on. Maybe Macleans can do an exposé on the junk press on campus–unless that hits too close to home for the pseudo-journalists at Macleans.ca. x2

  4. I am new to the Canadian system and these statements are nothing with to which I experince from my home! But nevertheless, it is sad that students are not educated on how funds are not used in a way to empower the student community. What is the way to correct these issues, STUDENT UPRISING!!!

    Student Unions must be treated the same way as any business with strict adherence to the laws of Canada. I would like to live a life of honesty, how can I when student unions poison the system?

    Nice report and would like to hear more.

  5. Guess Macleans doesn’t have fact checkers. The University of Toronto Students’ union spent no money on shutting out the Men’s Rights Movement at UofT, that was a student and community movement. Also, setting up a legal defence fund doesn’t mean contributing funds to it. The UTSU set up the fund so that it could receive donations from those you wished to support the Executive Director. Don’t know why this author is afraid to actually touch why Black July and the “Tamil Cause” (ie a movement against genocide) is such a bad thing for students’ unions to engage in.

    • I would have to agree. All in all, this is a spectacularly poor piece of writing. (See? I can use hyperbole too! Adjust your use of hyperbole, it is rampant and annoying.). In the future, try using cutting edge technology, like Google, to ensure the accuracy of your facts before posting in the public domain. Also, try to think through things like the liberal use of the word ‘stupid’ – how old are you anyways? , the defence of ‘mens’ rights groups – they were denied for good reason, and the student union did a good job of representing the general feeling of the student body, money well spent. Oh wait! No money was spent. Again, research like the university student I assume you are. Ditto for the anti-abortion groups, other than rabid right-wing ‘Christians’ wants them around for a reason. Finally, know.tour audianxe. Most of us are in favor of peaceful campuses free of bigotry, sexism, and assanine loudmouth writing.

    • Leftists specialize in smear and demagoguery (ref: “movement against genocide”). One could just as easily counter: Tamil Separatism i.e. evil genocidal terrorist murderers.

      Of course, Leftism does not recognize the concept of evil … except for ‘evil corporations’ and ‘evil right-wingers’!

  6. Look at the OCAP and marxist “activists” who took over Ryerson student radio station CKLN, drove out all the students and bled it dry until the CRTC took away its license to broadcast all with the support of the Ryerson Students Union and the Canadian Federation of Students.

    The students union was giving them $300,000 of the students money a year and continues to levy that money even though there is no radio station anymore.

    Then to add insult to injury, the Ryerson Students Union bought back all the equipment that was left and hadn’t been stolen from CKLN that had been paid for with student money. The students paid for this equipment twice. The RSU refuses to divulge what was bought or for how much and where that money went since CKLN no longer exists!

    There needs to be a forensic audit and if warranted the police brought in.

  7. Student Unions are the same as any other organization or company. They can be run well, as they are 98% of the time, and some times very poorly. Please don’t through the baby out with the bathwater. Get to know your Student Union.

  8. It is well known that the majority of student unions have been a breeding ground for junior NDP members. One can easily tell because they carry the same lack of respect for other people’s ideals and money into NDP policies.

  9. @Corey,

    Because as student we don’t want our money going to causes like that when we can instead use it to pay down our debt or get a car. No one gives unions money to spend on causes none of us would give a crap about.

  10. Fairly certain some people give a crap on the topics otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it. And students do generally care about social justice issues – not all students, but a lot of students. And again, what money was spent on these items?

  11. The biggest monument to student union incompetence stands 16.5 stories tall at the top of downtown Kingston… “Elrond College” aka “Princess Towers”. Built with CMHC backing by a student co-op as housing in the early 1970′s at a cost of $4.5 million and named for a Lord of the Rings character, this hovel offered “innovations” such as elevators which only stop on every third floor (3, 6, 9, 12, 15) and 10-bedroom apartments originally intended to hold a dozen students each. As the management were students, those with any experience in running this as a business would graduate and take that meagre knowledge with them – leaving a group whose collective memory span was four years or less (ie: enough to get an undergrad degree and get out, but no more). A decade later, Elrond College was bankrupt after Queen’s U. administration tired of bailing them out and was sold for $1.5 million. The main student union on campus no longer owns any housing. Subsequent owners of the building renamed it “Princess Towers” and knocked out walls to turn 10-bedroom units into 8-bedroom apartments – still an awkward design which should quite simply have never been built.

  12. Student unions just can’t win, can they? When they spend money on social justice issues that affect their members, they’re throwing our money away on issues that have nothing to do with their mandate, because of course no university students are Tamils, or women, or people Ann Coulter doesn’t approve of. When they spend money on student events and student services like campus pubs, they’re throwing our money away on frivolity. When they give their staff decent compensation for the mountains of work they do to help the students the union represents–making student union staff work one of the few attainable jobs in academia that still pays decently–they’re throwing our money away by…I actually don’t know how this logic works. By avoiding irony?

    Nobody likes mismanagement, and nobody likes having an event tank, and student unions as much as anyone else try to prevent that stuff, but they don’t have the absolute control over it that we wish everyone had. The part that the unions DO have control over–the budgets–go through several layers of vetting by elected student representatives before being voted on by the membership at each union’s Annual General Meeting, which is open to every member. That means that the expenditures you’re mocking were, for the most part, voted on by the students themselves.

    The pittance that the student union adds to my considerable tuition fees wouldn’t even buy me a week’s groceries. What I get for it in return includes access to bursaries, access to emergency loans, discounted transportation, discounted or free entertainment, access to fresh local fruits and vegetables, academic support, discounted health insurance, access to free or steeply discounted office services, and a powerful voice serving my interests. To me, that’s worth every penny.

  13. It’s not a pittance… once you add all of the “student fees” this is in the hundreds of dollars per student per year of money students can’t afford, just because they’re being forced to support a long list of on-campus organisations.

    If membership in this “student union” were voluntary, given the cost, how many would still join? How many could afford to still join?

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