The joys of approving your own spending requests

By Chris Adams

After going through two rounds of voting at Student Legislative Council (SLC), the Students’ Union submitted an application to Quality Money requesting $240,000 to move the Conference and Events office to the old Women’s Resource Centre space. This project highlights how the lack of oversight with SU spending can lead to the approval of questionable proposals.

The SU can get money for their projects in tricky ways. In this case, SU executives sponsored a $240,000 proposal. The proposal has to go through two bodies for approval, both of which are controled by the SU. The first is SLC (it was unanimously passed on two votes, as usual). The second is the Quality Money Committee (QMC), which approves all Quality Money spending. The QMC is made up of the five SU executives, three other SLC members and only two students-at-large — this means eight out of 10 sit on SLC.

So the same people tasked with granting Quality Money proposals can bring forward their own, making the QMC little more than a rubber-stamp committee.

Since 2004, the Board of Governors has given the SU around $1.6 million every year through Quality Money grants. This money is meant for student projects that enhance the “student experience.” Past funding projects include Safewalk, the Wellness Centre and office renovations in your favourite campus newsroom (yes, us). Any student can apply, though not every application is accepted.

But does the SU proposal meet Quality Money guidelines?

To get approved, proposals must meet the requirements outlined by one of three Quality Money “founding pillars.” If a proposal does not enhance the quality of education, student life or make the student experience more affordable and accessible, then zero dollars from Quality Money should be spent on it. And who decides if the application meets one of these pillar requirements? The same people who proposed the relocation in the first place.

As for the contents of this proposal, the only pillar I can see it fulfilling is the second: quality of student life. Proposals accepted under this pillar must “enhance the well-being of students, provide extra-curricular opportunities and/or build a sense of community and pride on campus.”

SU vice-president operations and finance Eric Termuende argued moving Conference and Events will increase already large revenues that will be spent on student services.

“[Conference and Events] is increasing their space by 50 per cent and will have a lot more business opportunities that will benefit students,” Termuende said.

More office space means more employees can plan more SU sanctioned events that students love to attend. OK, great.

But he also described Conference and Events as one of the SU’s “business units.” Hosting conferences and events for outside artists and organizations does generate money for the SU, but do these events actually enrich the student experience? Not fully.

Other Quality Money initiatives like the Wellness Centre and Safewalk have services aimed directly at students. Renting out the Ballroom for a business luncheon does make money for the SU, and that’s great, but corporate conferences have nothing to do with students. The truth is Conference and Events exists to make money from whoever can pay and the business is no more directed at students than Dairy Queen.

Quality Money guidelines stipulate that projects will not be accepted if they are “aimed at gaining profit.” If the SU’s justification for moving Conference and Events is that the larger space allows them to generate more revenue, the proposal stinks. Even if the proposal meets the guidelines of the second pillar, the profit motive behind the proposal creates an unwelcome contradiction in Quality Money guidelines that, if interpreted honestly, shouldn’t result in approval.

But will any of this matter if the SU has final say on which proposals are approved? Probably not.

Termuende said that the SU has “agreed to put all the $240,000 from the SU pool into moving Conference and Events.” The SU clearly thinks the relocation of Conference and Events is an important move, and it probably is. The Q centre will take over the offices vacated by Conference and Events, essentially increasing their office space tenfold. That’s positive. Increased SU revenue: also positive.

However, the SU’s proposal violates Quality Money guidelines. The fact that the move only needs approval from the the QMC, which is controlled by SLC members, shows how dysfunctional the system is.

Quality Money is not a piggy bank for the SU to cover administrative costs; this is money meant for student initiated projects.

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