Grant funding black hole sees the light of day

Fund receiving more than $1 million of students’ money per year soon to have greater transparency

Jessica Klymchuk, News Editor Ω

Students pay $5.30 per credit to support the Comprehensive University Enhancement Fund (CUEF), but have very little control over how that money is spent.

Since 2003, CUEF has allocated over $10.7 million to various university initiatives. Many institutional departments have become dependent on the “soft funds,” grants or other funds that require no return on investment, provided by CUEF. TRUSU is trying to give students more control over what the levy is supporting.

TRUSU’s March 11 submission to the Budget Committee of the Senate (BCOS) suggested a restructuring of the way the CUEF is allocated and operated. The student union said that the current model for the fund doesn’t reflect its original purpose, and that it is failing to support the interests of the students and the strategic priorities of the university and that it is also not transparent.

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TRU VP admin and finance and BCOS chair Matt Milovick called the report “timely in many ways.”

“We thought that the proposal was very well thought out and well structured, and the fact that CUEF has been chugging along now for ten or eleven years, it seems to me that it is time to review it and I think that it’s ready for a change,” Milovick said at the March 11 meeting.

TRUSU proposed that the CUEF steering committee be dissolved and that BCOS step in to provide direct oversight to the allocation of funds. It also recommended changes to how funds are disbursed, proposing that the management bodies best suited to hand out money become directly responsible for doing so.

Those management bodies include: BCOS for strategic initiatives, TRUSU and the TRU Williams Lake Student Council for direct student initiatives, and the research committee of the senate for undergrad research award program (UREAP). Each body would be allocated one-third of the fund to distribute.

“If I have the purview to do it, with the support of [provost Ulrich Scheck], I’m saying we accept these recommendations,” Milovick told BCOS.

When contacted for a response, Linda Butt, chair of the CUEF steering committee said the committee couldn’t provide comment because they had not yet seen the submission made by TRUSU.

“One of the concerns we have as an administration about the funding is the fact that there are salaries built into the allocations and that could present a problem over time,” Milovick told BCOS.

TRUSU‘s VP internal Leif Douglass and executive director Nathan Lane outlined the history of the fund (and its subsequent failures) to explain why TRUSU is making these recommendations.

The CUEF fund, its levy and the CUEF steering committee were created more than a decade ago in anticipation of UCC’s transition from a university college to a comprehensive undergraduate university. Its first budget was adopted in 2003-04. Funding allocations were to be prioritized based on seven criteria, which included support for student initiatives, strategic priorities of the institution, enhancement of the “environment” of the institution and that funds could be used as “a ‘loan,’ a ‘revolving’ allocation,” as per a CUEF committee report.

This isn’t the first time concerns have been raised over the fund. In a 2002 board of governors meeting, the Cariboo Student Society (now TRUSU) also expressed its concerns, and a 2002 CUEF committee report states that students were concerned about how much they would be consulted regarding decisions about how the fund was to be used.

TRUSU’s report stated “since then, students have repeatedly expressed concern about the reliance of salary expenditures on the ‘soft’ money of the fund.”

One student’s concerns

Student concerns about the fund have not since diminished. Most recently, Nick Byers approached The Omega about his effort to investigate how the CUEF steering committee makes decisions regarding direct student initiatives. After he was denied funding for an initiative connected to an on-campus club, Byers tried to appeal, but was told that there was no appeal process. Byers then requested that the committee clarify their decision making process.

He asked the committee to provide all meeting minutes and budgets for the last two years and all direct student initiative applications for the past two years. He was required to file a freedom of information request with the university under the Freedom of Information and Protection Privacy Act, which, according to Butt, applies whenever the university shares information. Byers’ request, filed Jan. 21, is still in the process of being fulfilled under the Act.

“My big thing right now is I would like students to know how poorly the money they spend on fees is being managed,” Byers said.

At its February meeting, the CUEF committee decided it would begin publishing successful student applications in the next fiscal year.

The committee hasn’t decided exactly on the terms of reference, but that the name of the initiative, its activity category and how much it was funded would be made public.

Byers asked The Omega to inquire as to why failed initiatives wouldn’t be posted. Butt responded with an email stating, “the purpose of posting successful applications is to provide transparency to students on how CUEF dollars are being allocated. Unsuccessful applications would have no impact on the disbursement of the fund.”

Addicted to soft funding?

Many of the current disbursements have not been substantially altered in ten years, meaning many of the areas that receive funding from the CUEF now rely on it. Although it was meant to act as a transitional aid, nine of the twelve original areas that receive funding have increased their allocated grants. Two areas, co-op opportunities and graduate programs, have seen a decrease in funding, Douglass pointed out.

“The fund has not facilitated new innovation or entrepreneurship in the development of the university, but has rather become a financial crutch for initiatives without appropriate institutional budget allocations,” TRUSU’s report states.

TRUSU claims the fund is also not transparent and “distorts and obscures institutional budgeting by creating a parallel but unconnected revenue source for divisions.”

For example, athletics and recreation receives funding from the operational budget allocation, from the athletics and recreation fee and from a reallocated fee, as well as 19 per cent of CUEF funds over the last ten years.

“It would be difficult for an accountant, let alone a student to decipher the use of funds in such as an arrangement,” TRUSU’s report states.

“Essentially what we have is a committee choosing allocations inside of a budget model with no orientation to the broader financial planning of the institution, no sense of who has or doesn’t have money, no sense of what kind of funding exists in other places,” Lane told BCOS.

The student union highlighted areas the university has determined as priorities that have been contradicted in the allocation of the fund. For example, TRUSU claims that although the last strategic plan identified international opportunities and Aboriginal students as priorities, study abroad has received $115,800 on average annually but Aboriginal initiatives receive an average of $24,535 annually.

Committee blind to other funding

Members of BCOS questioned this breakdown and how it was defined, suggesting that the breakdown wasn’t accurate considering some initiatives defined as international or otherwise were actually open to all students. They also suggested that perhaps the inequalities were a reflection of departments that aren’t 100 per cent funded by CUEF, while others are.

“The CUEF committee, when they fund that application, has no idea whether that’s a portion of the budget or whether it’s all of the budget. It’s by program and it’s by division. So you request through an application, but you don’t have to declare what revenue you might already have. So we don’t know, but neither does the committee allocating those funds, which I think is part of our point,” Lane said.

For this report, TRUSU consulted students who have sat on the CUEF steering committee over the past eleven years, as well as the TRUSU board of governors and the student caucus, which comprises every elected and appointed student that sits on an administrative committee across the university.

Milovick said he was unclear what the role of BCOS was in adopting the recommendations, since CUEF was created by the board of governors and BCOS merely accepts its budget as information after it is approved by the vice president of administration and finance and the provost. He said BCOS wouldn’t be able to move it as a motion, but rather it was an executive decision.

“My feeling is, and Uli’s as well, is we support the initiatives that are being put forward today by TRUSU,” Milovick told BCOS. “I think it certainly will satisfy the students to know that they have more of a voice and more of an equitable voice in dealing with their one-third.”

Committee member Annette Dominik questioned how the student body would feel about one-third of the fund being controlled solely by BCOS. Lane said the model is an improvement from a student perspective and Milovick agreed.