Financial oversight is much needed. Photo: CC, Matt Madd via Flickr.
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Accountability needed amid low voter turnout, struggling student media

The need for financial oversight when it comes to student unions is one we here at the U of O are all too familiar with. In case you’re not in the know, this past school year has been full allegations of financial mismanagement and fraud against executive members of the now-former student union, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO)

Following the allegations, there was an audit conducted by PwC. Although the results were in favour of the executives, university administration went forward with a referendum as the results failed to regain their confidence.

The need for financial oversight of student unions is also being debated at Ryerson University, following allegations against Ryerson Student Union executives. Initial allegations stated that there was approximately $250K of frivolous expenses paid for on the union’s credit cards. Now, the forensic audit being conducted has a scope of $700K.

While these two scandals are not reflective of student unions in general, they are far from rare. With limited involvement in the voting process, (the most recent referendum had 17 per cent voter turnout) students are seemingly unwilling to hold unions accountable, at least through the ballot. Early prevention of corruption seems impossible when there is limited transparency and a limited number of students willing to do something about it.

Student media, another common way to hold the student fed accountable, is also facing difficulties. If it weren’t for Ryerson’s student newspaper, the Eyeopener, investigating and bringing this matter to light, this financial mismanagement could have just gone on. The role of student media was vital in learning about this corruption, but with the Student Choice Initiative, funding for student media will most likely decrease over the next few years.

With voters traditionally failing to hold student unions fiscally accountable, and the instability of student media, third-party oversight and intervention needs to be implemented. It doesn’t need to be the university itself, as many are rightfully cautious of university involvement in union affairs, but perhaps a body separate from the union?

Maybe the officials could be appointed and agreed upon by both the university and the union. Or have a certain number of students and members of faculty involved. With a body like this, we need to prevent any corruption or favorability towards any elected officials. There are, of course, third-party companies and advisors that can be contracted in to play this role as well, which is probably the optimal solution.

Financial oversight is a need illustrated by recent scandals playing out in Ontario universities. With current political action taking place on the provincial level, it’s more important than ever that students feel as though they can trust their student union with financial management. Having a body to provide financial oversight, lead early intervention, and interfere if necessary, is a vital need that the UOSU should seek to implement.