Everyone complains about high tuition, but no one asks questions about the $745,000 dollars of student money—it came directly from your tuition!—the UTM Students’ Union received this year alone. With three quarters of a million dollars at stake, why aren’t more people asking questions about what the student union is doing with the money?
Nearly two years ago, $141,000 was taken from UTMSU’s contingency fund—that is, the emergency reserve—to fund the summer U-Pass program after negotiations went sour between Mississauga Transit and UTMSU. The student union didn’t want to lose the program, so they offered to pay Mississauga Transit more money. Since students (through a referendum) had only agreed to pay $85 for the summer U-Pass, UTMSU agreed to subsidize the remaining $55 per student with student money. For the whole summer program, that amounted to $141,000. That’s a lot of dough to subsidize a program that benefitted a small portion of the student population for four months.
I was at the commission meeting when former president Vickita Bhatt told students that the whopping amount drawn from the contingency fund would be paid back through decreases in student union executive salary cutbacks and cuts in ministry funding. Students passed the program in good faith.
For over a year, I’ve been asking about how this money is being replaced. Union representatives have vaguely responded that there is a “long-term” plan in place. For more than a hundred grand, that’s not an acceptable explanation. At the very least, VP internal Raymon Noronha was able to give me a better answer this year.
With so much money missing from the contingency fund, you’d think the student union would have presented at their Annual General Meeting the small line on page 9 of their financial statement that addresses the matter. If I hadn’t brought it up, that $141,000 would probably have slipped through the cracks without discussion.
According to U of T’s handbook for student societies, the purpose of an AGM is a formal gathering of stakeholders “at which the society’s audited financial statements are received by the members and at which the consent of members is sought on an annual basis for other important proposals”.
There weren’t any important proposals and there certainly wasn’t much discussion of the financial statements. Of the hour-and-a-half meeting, the 16-page financial statement was presented for less than 10 minutes. What were the other 80 minutes used for? Promotions. I was waiting for a cheerleading squad to burst out from behind the projector screen.
UTMSU did not hold an AGM. They held a pep rally. The majority of us are not commerce students. It is not possible for many of us to understand a 16-page financial statement in less than 10 minutes. They mentioned how great the pub is doing. That’s fantastic, but there was a lot more going on in that financial statement than the pub’s revenues.
My questions for UTMSU: Why didn’t you think it was important to present to your stakeholders in attendance that you’re still trying to pay back the $141,000 you spent? Why don’t you think it’s important to explain why you’re paying it back from cuts in ministries, but not cuts in your salary, like you proposed?
After the AGM, we interviewed some attendees for a video for our website. One student explained that UTMSU volunteers campaigned over the course of the week to tell students about how to get involved with the union. I asked if they were shown the financial statements. They weren’t. The purpose of the AGM was completely neglected in place of promoting the union’s events.
UTMSU president Chris Thompson ended the AGM by praising the “positive” and “impressive” manner of the meeting. How is it positive when representatives from the student newspaper were the only people directly asking about the financial statements? How is it impressive that most of the attendees were UTMSU volunteers and employees?
This isn’t to take away from UTMSU’s accomplishments. I saw many new faces at the AGM and I’m thrilled to see that students are getting involved. But if that’s what you want to showcase, then call it a pep rally. Don’t mask your financial statement at a supposed AGM by deeming that your announcements about your new phone app merit more time for discussion than a three quarters of a million dollars of student money.