After completing a financial investigation into the St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU), the University of St. Michael’s College (SMC) has released an executive summary of the resulting report.
In July 2016, SMC announced that a financial investigation into SMCSU was underway.
The college is not releasing the full report, which was prepared by Williams & Partners Forensic Auditors, to the public, citing privacy concerns for the individuals named in the report. In addition to the executive summary, SMC President David Mulroney released a statement on the matter.
According to the executive summary, “Certain individuals admitted to receiving kickback payments in the form of cash from third parties for the procurement of goods and services,” but it notes that some of the kickbacks were repaid.
It states that the individual who issued the kickbacks may have done so through overbilling or “fictitious billing to accommodate the kickback payments received” and the kickbacks have spanned over six years.
The executive summary also details “poor controls over cash managements,” which has led to money going missing. This includes cash payments being kept off the books, unidentified cash deposits of $120,075, unidentified expenditures of $123,632, and falsified invoices.
$50,677.90 of SMCSU monies went towards “professional development,” which included yearly trips to Blue Mountain at approximately $6,300 per trip, as well as $412.45 paid out of SMCSU’s funds to cover damage repairs at the retreats. Other “inappropriate expenditures” listed in the report include $400–$600 for a dinner for four people and $300–$350 for a dinner for two people.
Furthermore, the executive summary highlights a lack of records and transitional documents available when newly elected SMCSU council members take over. In one instance, the incoming Finance Commissioner was not aware of the existence of a PayPal account set up to collect fees for orientation. It also states that “proper bookkeeping records were not maintained or did not exist.”
The executive summary recommends SMCSU convert to a cashless system and utilize online, debit, or credit card payments for its transactions. In addition, it recommends hiring a permanent third-party bookkeeper and establishing a code of ethics to prevent “the acceptance of any direct or indirect gifts/benefits or bribes, etc. from vendors and the promise that assets of SMCSU will be safeguarded and not misappropriated for personal use or for events/usage which is contrary to the constitution.”
SMC President David Mulroney released a statement on the report, in which he notes what he calls a “culture of entitlement” among “some of the most senior officials in recent SMCSU administrators.” He also stated that hazing was a part of this tradition.
“Students who were part of this corrupt sub-group worked to indoctrinate and implicate members of each succeeding administration, justifying the wrongdoing as being part of SMCSU culture,” he wrote.
Mulroney believed that SMCSU operated on “three levels.”
“The well-intentioned majority was largely sidelined, kept at arm’s length from information and decision making. Another group refrained from actual wrongdoing, but was aware of it and failed to speak out and stop it,” he wrote.
Mulroney continues: “Finally, a smaller group of students held real control of money, information and decision-making. This group, essentially an entitled elite, turned their backs on the students and the institution that they should have served, and treated SMCSU as a private club,” his statement continues.
Mulroney attributed a part of the burden of responsibility to the college “having become so consumed with internal affairs that it lost sight of what matters most: providing an exceptional academic experience for our students, one shaped by our fidelity to Goodness, Discipline and Knowledge.”
In September 2016, Mulroney released a blog post criticizing SMCSU’s past financial practices and describing a new policy that he subsequently presented to Collegium — the college’s highest governing body — that would appoint an academic advisor to SMCSU, The Mike newspaper, and the St. Michael’s College Residents’ Council.
Two months later, Snapchat videos depicting jokes about Islam were leaked onto social media and implicated then-current and former SMCSU council members.
The union was subsequently prorogued, and in February, SMC announced that it struck a committee to organize elections for a new student government.
Mulroney plans to have a meeting with all individuals named in the report and insist on any outstanding funds still unaccounted for to be returned, and “in the most serious cases, ask individuals to withdraw from student government and related activities.”
Former SMCSU President Zachary Nixon told The Varsity that “the audit findings are accurate, and I believe the results speak for themselves.” Nixon declined to comment on Mulroney’s statement or the SMC administration’s actions taken towards SMCSU.
Georgina Merhom, the University of Toronto Students’ Union representative for SMC and founder of the Our SMC campaign, also agreed that the audit’s findings were accurate: “SMCSU has been mismanaged for years; there is no doubt that there is a lot of rebuilding to do, but I can, beyond a shadow of a doubt, guarantee that the audit for the 2016-17 year is going to look very different due to the policies and procedural changes that Council implemented in the last year.”
Merhom believes that the administration should “interject” but only in ensuring accountability of student representatives.
“Students voted to pay a membership fee to SMCSU. I believe that using that membership fee to fund a ‘new student government’ — one that is created by a committee comprised of members of administration and non-elected student representatives — without conducting a fair referendum first to receive consent from students, would be un-transparent, unaccountable, and a decision that undermines student voices,” Merhom stressed.
Mulroney and the SMC administration declined to comment further.