CSU council members, members of Hillel, and most recently the Board of Governors have all been putting pressure on the CSU executives to disclose their financial records to the public, but CSU president Sabine Friesinger said the CSU’s records have always been available to its constituents.
“There’s nothing closed about our books; everyone should come and see if they want to look. But I also feel there’s a process, a procedure, that should be followed. I mean, it’s normal. When you want to talk to someone you get a meeting, you don’t just walk into their office and demand to see records,” Friesinger said.
At their last meeting, the CSU Council of Representatives voted down a motion presented by Arts and Sciences representative John Gravel to force the CSU to keep financial records out in the open for students to consult during normal business hours.
In his motion, Gravel stated CSU bylaw 15.1, which requires that the CSU, “make available to its members,” a book containing “detail as to the receipts and disbursements of the Student Union and the matters to which each of them relates, as well as details of its financial transactions and its credits and liabilities,” but other councillors argued that the records could not be made public as they would fall into the hands of plaintiffs in the lawsuit brought against the CSU by members of Hillel.
Adam Spiro, a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the CSU, has been told he will not have full and unfettered access to the CSU’s financial records until his trial is over and a verdict has been rendered.
“Not to hand over financial information to 30,000 students because 10 plaintiffs may have access to something that has nothing to do with their lawsuit doesn’t make sense,” said Spiro. “I have rights as a student, rights that every student has.” Members of Hillel are in court now, suing the CSU for $100,000 because they temporarily revoked Hillel’s funding in December 2002 and for what Hillel members call the hostile atmosphere on campus created by the CSU.
Friesinger said that following the advice of the their lawyer, the CSU refused Spiro’s request to view financial information not only on the basis that he’s involved in a court case against the CSU, but that he’s also making financial allegations in his complaint.
Friesinger cited the injunction Hillel filed against the CSU, which accuses the CSU of, “mismanagement of student funds, failure to observe its own bylaws, refusal to give access to information to which its members are entitled, obstructionism, intrigue, and behaviour inconsistent with a reasonably managed corporation responsible to represent all undergraduate students at the university.”
Friesinger said this definitely gives the CSU the right to withhold financial information from Spiro. “I have a responsibility to ensure the legal process runs smoothly for the CSU and will continue to follow advice from our legal counsel,” said Friesinger. “Besides, in the end he can get his friends to go [get the records] for him.”
All financial records can be viewed by making an appointment with CSU VP Finance Sameer Zuberi. Friesinger said Zuberi has been holding such appointments with students over the last two weeks, and will continue to be accessible to members of the student union. “There’s nothing to hide,” she said.
But councillors Gravel and Louis-Eric Simard feel that anything but full financial disclosure is suspect, as only two years have passed since a financial scandal involving then-VP finance Cheryl Navidad came to light.
Simard said councillors were acting against students at the last meeting when they voted down a motion that would financially penalize councillors who do not attend council meetings, and then voted against putting the question on a referendum ballot in order for students to decide how they want their money to be managed.
“Why were students prevented from voting on those issues at the next referendum? Whose interests are being protected here?” Simard asked.
“We take a lot of money from the students. It’s a bit more than a buck per student. Hopefully, we would provide commensurate services. If the whole process from the time we receive the money to the time it’s disbursed is cloaked, how do we know it’s being managed properly?” he added.
Students interested in viewing the records can call the CSU office for an appointment at 848-7474.