Transparency must come to HSF

It seems the keyword of the 21st century thus far has been transparency.

Every political party is shouting about how fantastically open they are with their policies and finances and how abhorrently opaque their opponents are.

These policies aren’t just limited to the powerful men and women of Parliament Hill, Queen’s Park and City Hall, though. But first, a little math. Sorry.

Here at Humber College, our lowly Humber Students’ Federation’s first listed value is Accountable Governance. Under that banner they vow to “take ownership of both our actions and results, make every decision in the best interest of the student body and be fiscally responsible.”

An independent audit of HSF’s finances for the 2013-14 academic year found they pulled in nearly $5.3 million in revenues. A whopping 91 per cent (more than $4.8 million) was from student fees. That number climbs even higher if health and dental fees are included, which for some unexplained reason they weren’t.

That’s a huge chunk of change. So what did they spend it on?

That audited report cites “activity programming” ($481,282), “orientation” ($408,940) and “student marketing” ($441,980) as the biggest “student services expenses.” On the administrative side, salaries took the biggest chunk, more than $1.5 million.

If anybody wants to know what each of those terms mean, however, they’ll have to pull some corporate espionage because HSF isn’t talking. And they don’t have to.

Legally, a student government is nothing more than another “corporation without share” in which we the students are “members,” the equivalent of shareholders. In exchange for whatever membership fees or dues we pay for our membership we are entitled to one vote apiece on matters raised at general meetings.

On matters of true accountability and transparency, that annual independent auditor’s report cited earlier, with its complete lack of breakdown for half-million-dollar categories of expenditure, is all that is required.

In the majority of these corporations without share, this is a fair trade-off. For one simple reason, student governments are not in this majority.

Students get no choice. Student fees are rolled into our tuition. If we don’t pay, we can’t register for classes. We fork over millions of dollars each year without a say in where it goes. It’s spent in our name, allegedly in our “best interest” but there is no way for us to know whether that vow is being kept.

For example, last year’s student government election cost $37,516. As Et Cetera reported in March, it had a budget of $100,000. Why such a discrepancy between the budget and the actual expense?

That $37,000-plus more than triples the budget assigned by the union at Seneca College, a school of comparable population with more campuses and twice as many executive positions.

What value Humber students get from the extra expenditures is not clear. Nor will it be until Queen’s Park passes legislation requiring it.

HSF, like every other organization, political or otherwise, will keep all the secrets it can.

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt.

But if people think you a cheat and a liar, silence serves only to reinforce those beliefs.