President of the University of St. Michael’s College (SMC) David Mulroney plans to release a new policy governing its relationship with its three main campus groups.
The proposed framework was presented to the Collegium — SMC’s highest governing body — last Wednesday, and it would affect St. Michael’s College Student Union, The Mike newspaper, and the St. Michael’s College Residents’ Council.
Mulroney announced his intention to report on the proposed policy to the Collegium last Monday in a blog post on SMC’s website.
Unlike many of the levy-collecting student societies on campus, such as the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the three main student groups at SMC are not separately incorporated entities and exist as organizations within SMC.
In an interview with The Varsity, Mulroney explained that the policy would formalize accountability measures for mandatory levies that the college collects and transfers to the student groups. The policy would also see an academic advisor appointed to all three of the student groups.
SMC has previously lacked such a policy governing student societies. U of T policy requires student societies to submit audited financial statements of the previous year before December 31 and operate in a matter that is “open, accessible, and democratic.” Failure to do so may result in the university withholding the student society’s levy funds.
“While we are the instrument that passes over the student levy, increasingly, the best practice at U of T is before we pass it over, we’d like to be sure that you have in place mechanisms for managing it transparently and fairly,” he said. “At U of T, there’s a kind of governance framework that says why and how you do this, why the administration has the right to do that. At St. Mike’s, we didn’t have that constitution in place.”
SMCSU President Zachary Nixon declined The Varsity’s requests for comment. In a public Facebook post, SMCSU Vice-President Jessica Afonso expressed her discontent at Mulroney’s blog post, saying that many of the issues raised were already being addressed by SMCSU’s executive, and that the union ought to be treated as an autonomous entity.
Financial management issues at SMCSU
Despite the lack of a formalized policy, the college withheld SMCSU’s fees twice last year for failing to retain a charted accountant and to publicly announce its annual general meeting (AGM).
“We did that just because we felt responsibly, we needed to ask these questions,” said Mulroney. “But this [policy] now makes explicit that our ability to do that [sic].”
SMCSU is currently the subject of an ongoing investigation, which the college initiated in July.
Mulroney explained the investigation found that SMCSU’s finances were primarily cash-based due to the union’s frequent club nights that take cash at the door and are often poorly accounted for.
“Being a cash-based organization we felt was problematic,” he explained. “Then, we found out, and were sort of horrified to discover, that after club nights, the take isn’t counted for about a month, it just goes into the safe. And people were writing IOU notes, taking cash and writing IOU notes.”
In his blog post on the SMC website, Mulroney decried what he called an “entitlement culture” present in SMCSU’s leadership and compared the union to a fraternity house.
According to Mulroney, the investigation also found that SMCSU executives expensed trips to Blue Mountain with the previous executives “without really an agenda” and frequently used union money to purchase meals that ranged between $80 to $100.
Mulroney continued, “It was compounded by the financial mismanagement because we found that people were being reimbursed by Paypal accounts that other members of SMCSU didn’t even know about. And that, while some people thought that there was only one key for the cash box, there were actually several keys for the cash box.”
“When we asked people about it… they said, ‘Well, we thought because we work very hard, this was a way of rewarding us. There was no other reward for us.’ That’s what every organization tells itself, what every public servant who goes wrong tells himself or herself. ‘I’m entitled to this because I have to work hard.’ So there’s a very hard lesson here but it’s a lesson that’s being learned with other people’s money.”
Mulroney also clarified his comparison of SMCSU to a fraternity: “Because one of the people who came forward said, ‘When I think about it, we’re more like a fraternity because we have things that we’re told are secrets that belong to SMCSU.’”
Mulroney’s criticisms also concerned SMCSU-run events. In his blog post, he wrote, “SMCSU’s program of activities had almost nothing to do with the life of a Catholic intellectual community” and described the relationship between the college and the union as “two solitudes.”
“I had specific comments about club nights themed ‘Cowboys and Schoolgirls.’ I said, ‘I think that’s sexist and inappropriate,’” said Mulroney. “I had particular comments about another SMCSU event. I think it was called a ‘Bachelor/Bachelorette Auction’ and by chance, I happened to be walking through Brennan Hall coming from another event when it was going on, and I said, ‘I think that event is wrong on many levels and I don’t want it to be happening at St. Mike’s.’”
Mulroney also targeted Brennan Hall, which is the college’s lounge space and also houses SMCSU’s offices. He told The Varsity that the space was becoming “unfriendly” and identified the pool table that was placed there as a “magnet for territorial and possessive behaviour.”
“Every time I’d walk by the pool table, guys were really, really swearing. There was a woman at the Tim Horton’s ten feet away who was covering her ears,” he said.
Mulroney continued: “I got a message from a woman who works at St. Mike’s, and she said, ‘David, I was in Brennan Hall this afternoon and I felt that it was [an] unfriendly space to women. The music was kind of sexist, misogynist. Can you do something about that?’ So, I had raised this with SMCSU many times. We finally just took the pool table out.”
In addition, Mulroney said that he had asked SMCSU if the union could help sponsor a Syrian refugee family, at the request of a group of Theology students. “Their immediate response was, ‘That’s not part of our agenda. We’re busy. The students won’t want to sponsor it.’”
SMCSU eventually agreed to help with the sponsorship, but an audit found that the union had not paid the money it pledged.
Mulroney, who is an SMC alum, described SMCSU during his time as an undergraduate student as “very socially committed.”
“This was an activist campus. And I find now the focus is so much on social events that it’s very hard to squeeze in, to get attention from them for things [that] are really worthy of that,” he explained.
According to Mulroney, reception to his announcement has been mixed. He has received “a lot of responses from people who are involved with SMCSU saying, ‘This is unfair and, you know, what about all the good things that we do, and let’s preserve the status quo,’ and others from students who are saying, ‘I always felt closed off from SMCSU, I never felt welcome, I thought it was like a club that I wouldn’t belong in. I didn’t even feel welcome in Brennan Hall.’”
In her Facebook post, Afonso said that the announcement was unwelcome, and that the policy Mulroney proposed was unnecessary. “The investigation is still in progress, but the College wanted to take some seemingly proactive (but more like “preemptive”) measures to ensure that the the [sic] union’s Council was operating to the highest standards of accountability and transparency,” reads a portion of Afonso’s Facebook post. “Here’s the thing: The Executives already wanted to do all these things with our Council.”
Afonso’s post went on to explain that the executives had already planned measures, such as holding another AGM, transitioning away from a cash-based system, making changes to the sort of events hosted by the union, and “[restoring] the relationships between SMCSU, our clubs, the College’s administration, SMRC, the Mike, and the don teams.”
“This year’s Council was doing everything a bit differently, and arguably better,” Afonso continues. “But hey, question, did we get an ounce of credit for that? Nope. And this article sure as hell reinforces that answer.”
Afonso also stressed the importance of SMCSU’s autonomy: “As a Council, WE decide on the events, programs and services offered. You gave us that autonomy because you trust us; we come from similar demographics, similar experiences, similar opinions, and similar values. We share similar aspirations. Who really knows you better: the College’s senior administration, or us? We have an entire year to enhance your experience at the College, so let US make it happen.”