Carleton University battles its student unions over fees

News by

duate and Graduate Student Associations have had their funding cut off  by the administration since November 1. Both student unions refused to sign a new agreement with the university’s administration and board of governors, and as a result the administration has refused to give the CUSA and GSA their student fees.

Over a year ago, Carleton’s auditors recommended the provision of audited financial statements by CUSA and GSA to demonstrate that the $7 million distributed yearly to the two student unions are in fact distributed for the purposes for which it was collected. Both student unions refused the proposal and have been negotiating since.

Jason MacDonald, Carleton’s communications director, said that the financial audits are required to fill a transparency and accountability gap that currently exists, but stressed that the administration has no interest in dictating how the money gets used.

“[CUSA and GSA] resisted, because they say they are independent and we acknowledge that,” MacDonald said. “We just want to know that [the funds] that are being collected are actually dispersed to their determined purposes, but it’s up to them to decide which student groups get how much money.”

According to the student unions, however, the agreement contains provisions and assurances above and beyond what the auditors originally called for. The student unions are concerned that this could give the administration far-reaching powers, such as the ability to refuse to collect new levies decided by student referendum, terminate leases for offices, and take over management of the campus pubs.

“Carleton’s demands are both inappropriate and unnecessary,” CUSA President Alex Sirois said in an email to the Tribune. “The university wants to grant the board of governors the ability to override the democratic will of students and ignore referenda results. They also want the ability to terminate leases for businesses and offices that we have operated for decades.”   

According to Sirois, both students’ associations have strict financial controls to make sure that they spend students’ money properly. CUSA employs a full-time chartered accountant and both associations are audited yearly by external licensed public accountants.

In an effort negotiated in good faith, the two student unions made amendments to the university’s proposals in August. This attempt, however, was unsuccessful.

“If we are actually acting in the best interest of our members we cannot agree on some parts of the new agreement,” said Kimalee Phillip, GSA President. “We told them if you do not get back to us we are going to file an application to the court. They did not get back to us and so we filed an application.”

Although going to court was not an easy decision to make, Phillip explained that it was what their legal counsel advised them to do. Similarly, the administration admitted that the route taken was not optimal but that the university would vigorously defend itself against the actions.

“Obviously, from our point of view it’s not ideal that we would end up in court, particularly when what we are asking for is a fairly basic element of financial accountability and transparency for an organization managing $7 million of student money,” MacDonald said.

CUSA and GSA have been operating with retained earnings and have taken steps to control costs. The groups have also secured a line of credit with their bank. According to their financial administrators, though, they will only be able to operate until January at the latest.

Services such as financial aid, emergency grants, and campus employment may have to be removed.

 “The Carleton administration is really trying to control every aspect of campus life and I think this is just another way of doing so,” Phillip said.