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.
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