On January 15, members of the University College Literary and Athletic Society (UC Lit) council met for their first monthly meeting of 2017. Amongst routine business, the council discussed how to come up with an unexpected $8,000 drained from the contingency fund, and how it was possible that a forgotten invoice from Orientation last September was the cause.
The meeting revealed financial mismanagement by Abby Godden and Julia Davis, the Co-Chairs of UC Orientation, and a lack of compliance with Council Policies in regards to their payment of honoraria.
Forgotten invoice discovered, contingency fund at risk
UC Lit President Ramsey Andary said during the meeting that he and Financial Commissioner Snow Mei were working on final details for the Orientation account when he “just had a hunch to just check this one expense — we looked into the food services expense.” He and Mei found an invoice for $7,200 for breakfasts for the week that did not appear to have been paid.
After reaching out to UC food services and having the UC admin look into the matter, it was confirmed that the bill had not been paid.
Andary, Mei, and UC Lit Vice President Daman Singh also found another $800 in various expenses, including the website for orientation and associated expenses, and first-aid training for some of the executives, that had not been properly documented.
“This was a case of purely financial mismanagement. We’ve already spoken with both Co-Chairs about this and about the situation,” Andary continued. “Straight after this discovery and us talking to the Co-Chairs, they have voluntarily stepped down from the role of the hiring committee as a sort of consequence of the financial mismanagement they felt was right to do.”
Andary, Mei, and members of the finance commission are going to embark on a thorough internal audit of the financial account of Orientation to make sure they have looked through everything and can close the file.
The unexpected costs from Orientation have drained the $12,000 contingency fund — which makes up 12 per cent of the total budget — leaving only a $2,000, or 2 per cent reserve.
“We’ll talk about it more during the budget process, but that’s why it’s so important to keep contingency high, especially because right now, we don’t know 100 per cent if that’s the end of Orientation’s finances,” Mei said of the need to raise the contingency fund back to 12 per cent.
Singh said that members should “think of this as a practice in good governance and good budgeting. Although the deficit isn’t the fault of the Lit, it is good governance for us to make sure that our finances are properly checked and the way to do that right now is [to] make sure that we always have a stable contingency.”
A question of balance
In light of Andary’s statement, saying there was broader financial mismanagement involved with Orientation, Upper Year Representative Felipe Vicencio-Heap raised the question of why the forgotten breakfast cost would be an unexpected expense if the Orientation budget was balanced going into the week of events. Mei confirmed that the budget was, indeed, balanced going into Orientation.
A number of UC Lit members expressed that there was an unexpected rise in some costs during Orientation. Mid Year Representative Michelle Beyn suggested that the cost of the breakfast services themselves was hiked after the budget was made, and that this is one of the reasons for the deficit.
At press time, The Varsity was unable to confirm whether or not these post-budget cost increases or broader financial mismanagement were to blame for the deficit.
Godden’s statement to the Lit
Andary read a statement from Godden to the members of the Lit. Godden, also the Off-Campus Commissioner on the Lit, was not present at the meeting on Sunday. “My Orientation journey has been a rocky one,” she begins.
“I am so honoured to work with you all. I do not deserve the opportunity to work with a group of such wonderful people,” her letter continues.
“To think that my work with orientation has had such a devastating effect on our council and our community breaks my heart… My intention was to provide a positive and supportive experience for everyone involved in or with orientation – and in that, I failed.”
“I have let you all down, and this community down, and I am ashamed,” Godden writes. Godden has removed herself from the hiring process for the next Co-Chairs and will be working on transitioning them to ensure that they “will not make the same mistakes that [she] did.”
“I’m sorry it’s not enough, but there’s little else to say. I truly am sorry,” the letter concludes.
Davis did not submit a letter to the Council.
Events, services cut from budget
In order to make up for the $8,000 that Orientation has drained from the budget, the Lit had to quickly make amendments to the budget during the Sunday meeting. This came at the cost of a number of events and services.
All Night Fung, which offers the Howard Ferguson Dining Hall as a 24 hour study space during exam season, has been cut down with the intent of attempting to make it up through partnerships. Certain costs associated with food and drink at pub nights and the awards banquet were slashed in addition to a portion of the costs associated with the commuter retreat at Hart House Farm.
A large chunk of the cuts ended up coming from cancelling the orders of new promotional material and spirit wear for the current term, and promotional food giveaway events.
Andary clarified this, telling The Varsity that “a line-by-line rundown of the cuts made to the budget will be included in the minutes of today’s meeting… The cuts made will not have any impact on the quality or quantity of events and services offered by the UC Lit.”
Orientation co-chairs face questions regarding pay
Godden and Davis signed off on their own cheques for the remainder of their honoraria despite the fact that a full written report and a financial audit of orientation was not presented to the council, as required under chapter six, section two, subsection E of the UC Lit’s Council Policies for the funds to be released.
In a discussion of whether or not the Co-Chairs would face any sort of repercussions or punitive actions for not accounting for the $7,200, Beyn asked during the meeting if the UC Lit could hypothetically withhold pay for future Co-chairs if the council “[finds] something which they directly did wrong.” Singh responded, “there are a lot of labour regulations when it comes to employing staff and, as a progressive body, there are more than just regulations we have to follow.”
Andary confirmed with The Varsity that the employment contracts for the Co-Chairs have come to an end and that they are no longer staff of the Lit; they voluntarily stepped down from their duties related to hiring next year’s Orientation Co-Chairs. “The Society will focus on putting measures in place to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future,” Andary told The Varsity. There is no indication that the UC Lit is pursuing punitive action against Godden and Davis.
The proceedings of the meeting also raised questions regarding the paid role of Orientation Co-Chairs. As shown in the meeting minutes from November 13, 2016, there was a rift between the Office of the Dean of Students and the Lit during Orientation arising from the paid nature of the Orientation Co-Chairs. The paid role of Orientation Co-Chair was doubled in 2016 to $6,000 to accommodate financial accessibility concerns related to the extensive nature of the job.
“[Dean of Students] Melinda [Scott] states that there was substantial conflict during the planning and execution processes of Orientation Week – in her 14 years of work, she has never encountered this type of conflict before,” the minutes read.
Both Godden and Davis were in favour of removing the paid agreement with the Office of the Dean of Students at the November 11 meeting: “Abby states that the agreement with the Office is not for the benefit of Orientation as a whole; she does not believe that the positives of the Honorarium Agreement outweigh the negatives. Abby and Julia believes that for the most part, the interactions were positive, but believes that without the agreement, it would have been a much smoother process,” the minutes state. The motion did not pass.
The Varsity has reached out to Godden, Davis, and Scott for comment.
Editor’s note: a previous version of the article incorrectly stated that Beyn asked if it was possible to withhold pay for the Co-chairs this year. In fact, Beyn was asking about future Co-chairs. The Varsity regrets the error.