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Carleton should back off its students’ unions

Withholding funds while negotiations are ongoing is a sign of bad faith


 

Both the undergraduate and graduate students’ associations at Carleton University have called on a provincial judge to untangle a financial battle with their administration. On Oct. 25, the university’s board of governors decided to withhold the unions’ membership fees until a new funding agreement has been signed.

But, the students’ associations feel the university’s latest actions have been triggered by their traditionally critical opposition to issues on campus, including the current labour negotiations with campus faculty, and they’re using the funding agreement as an excuse to keep them quiet.

“This is about political interference plain and simple. They want to silence students’ voices on-campus,” graduate students’ union president Kimalee Phillip said in a statement on Nov. 11. “Students have decided to pay these fees for on-campus services and representation.

“Senior administrators think that they should decide where students’ money goes instead and are attempting to starve the students’ unions by withholding our only source of operating revenue.”

According to the university, though, it’s about accountability. The university wants to see audited account statements to prove that student money is being handled appropriately.

“The university has no interest in determining or directing how student associations at Carleton University spend their funds,” said spokesperson Jason MacDonald in an email to CBC. “The university is simply asking for CUSA and GSA to be transparent and accountable to the Carleton community with regard to how student fees are disbursed.”

This isn’t the first time a university has made that argument.

Back in 2005 and 2006, the administration of Quebec’s Dawson College withheld student fees from the Dawson Students’ Union over allegations that the DSU had not properly incorporated as a students’ society under Quebec law.

The issue of liability gets complicated, especially since nothing has been proven in court. But withholding funds while negotiations with the students’ unions are ongoing, is a sign of bad faith.

That results in the kinds of broad accusations that are now being hurled around.

While Carleton University might be uncomfortable with the way the students’ union is organized, it is a union elected and funded by the students of the university. That has to be taken into account. Elected officials screw up all the time. That’s nothing new. If funds are being mismanaged, it will be up to the electorate and the union’s oversight bodies to fix it.

If Carleton University has enough evidence that funds are being mismanaged, they should move through the courts or make their accusations known publicly. If they don’t, they need to back off and let students hold their own representatives accountable at their discretion.

Photo: Getty Images


 

Carleton should back off its students’ unions

  1. I agree this is a sign of bad faith. These student unions already have third party annually audited statements, which they go over with elected representatives from each department, and then additionally make available to any student associated with each respective union. I know this because I sat on council last year, and during a meeting we went painstakingly through the audited statements so that every department rep (who are elected by other students in their programs) knew what was going on.
    I really think this is one of the many issues surrounding these new agreements and that highlighting financial statement audits (which are already audited by a third party auditor) as the main reason as to why they are withholding fees collected in trust, and normally distributed in good faith, is irresponsible and highlights a consistent theme of misinformation spreading.
    I guess as a student I really don’t see any reason for the trouble to student unions.

  2. I agree. It’s all political. The audited statements are made available to all students through their respective unions, presented in detail to each council, and audited by a third party, unconnected with both the university and the unions.

    This is not about transparency, this is about control. There is a high level of transparency by the unions to those to whom they are accountable: the students. The university administration has no right to claim the unions to be accountable to them in any way.

    Furthermore, withholding the fees is potentially criminal as the university holds those fees in trust. This is not only bad faith negotiating, this is a deep breach of trust.

    This administration is not picking its battles at all, but attacking every possible group on campus at once. If you ask me, it’s not a very smart tactic, but rather both stupid and arrogant.

  3. I was also on the council for a couple of years and I can tell you that CUSA had big issues related to the timeliness of audits. During my tenure, CUSA consistently failed to provide the audit to council within 6 months of its fiscal year end (It’s my understanding that this year they managed to do so). As a person who is paying fees it alarms me that they were not providing the information necessary for the council to make the proper decision over its resources. An Audit that is presented over a year late (about 15 months was the longest when I was on council) says nothing about the organization. Withholding the fee’s until the organization has fully complied with the law makes sense to me. It adds an additional incentive to get the audit done on time that CUSA seems to have been lacking.
    The other complaint I have is governance related. CUSA Inc. is a separate body from the student association. All students at Carleton are members of the association but not of the corporation. The only members (members are the equivalent to shareholders for a non-profit) are the members of council; CUSA has no obligation to show its audited statements to the general student population. It is my opinion that we should do a complete overhaul of CUSA’s governance structure.

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