The Concordia Student Union (CSU), already suspected of financial corruption by some of its constituents, was dealt another blow by the Board of Governors (BoG), who moved to force the CSU to show them financial statements.
“We take the position that the CSU doesn’t, is in no way obligated to present its finances to the Board of Governors,” said CSU President Sabine Friesinger. “Because of accreditation law, we’re sort of protected in the sense that our autonomy is protected under law. We do have to answer to our members, but only our members.”
But the CSU has decided to negotiate with the administration, meeting with Rector Lowy and the dean of students last week and again on Monday, Friesinger said, in order to save students the cost of another legal battle.
The CSU has been in court for three weeks arguing a lawsuit brought against them by members of Hillel which may cost the CSU $100,000 if the plaintiffs can prove they were denied their basic human rights when Hillel’s funding was suspended in December 2002.
Hillel co-president Noah Joseph said he was pleased the administration was leading an independent investigation into CSU finances, but that it was not suggested by Hillel.
One of the plaintiffs in the Hillel case, Adam Spiro, has also been leading a private investigation into CSU finances. He has said he was told he was unable to access financial statements because he was a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the CSU.
Spiro also published a letter in the Link, alleging the CSU misspent its budget, and kept its finances hidden from students. The Thursday Report’s account of the BoG’s decision to withhold transfer payments to the CSU holds that the decision began, “over recent accusations made in the Link about the CSU use of student funds.”
“I would suppose [the administration’s decision to withhold transfer payments] has something to do with the lawsuit we’re going through. It raises some questions about finances,” Joseph said. The CSU has responded to charges of financial misdealings by publishing their budget in their newsletter, The Unabridged. But Joseph said the CSU has been careful to leave out certain things, and that it has taken them too long. “This information was supposed to be available right away,” he said.
CSU transfer payments have been withheld before to the tune of over $200,000. In January 2002, the administration disapproved of the constitution of the CSU, accusing them of “[thwarting] the democratic process” by imposing an interim council until another could be elected in the byelections.
“It’s a similar situation, I think, where the BoG doesn’t like the position that the students have taken, and it’s putting itself into a position to crush the student union. We have nothing to hide, but we didn’t like their intentions, and the precedent it sets,” said Friesinger.
This time around, the administration asked the CSU to table their most recent audited financial statements and those of affiliated organizations, as well as the budget for those organizations for this fiscal year, saying that unless the CSU complied, their funds would be put in trust unless it could be taken in court.
Dennis Murphy, the director of university communications, said that while the administration might not have legal power over the CSU, they had a moral obligation to protect students’ interests. He said in light of the financial scandals that have rocked both Concordia and all of North America in past years, more had to be involved in money than legality.
“What you have to look at is what’s been going on in North America,” he said, “and the concomitant is it’s everyone’s moral responsibility to guard against financial corruption,” Murphy said negotiations were running smoothly, and the BoG would probably table a motion to lift the hold on CSU transfer payments at their next meeting.