Students demand more transparency from TRUSU

Ian Cowie, Omega Contributor  Ω

More and more student unions are publishing financial statements online. Currently student unions at UBC, UVIC, SFU, UofA and UofC publish financial statements online showing executive’s salaries and audited financial statements.

However, the Thompson Rivers University Student Union holds the management of their finances much more closely.

Nathan Lane, executive director of the student union, isn’t sure the TRUSU budget should be as accessible.

“It doesn’t make much sense for us as a membership to publicly produce our documents,” said Lane.

“We don’t distribute financial documents for a few different reasons; so that we don’t have a lot of drafts out there, but also so that when people have questions we can be there to answer them and provide some context.”

The annual TRUSU budget, which is approximately $1.1 million, can currently be viewed in one of two ways.

First, students can make an appointment with Lane to see a copy of the budget or audit, provided no copies leave the student union office.

This can be difficult for a variety of reasons, especially considering how busy students and Lane are during the semester.

The second way to see the budget is at the annual general meeting that takes place in January each year.
Kiera Gonyea, a third-year adventure tourism student at TRU, believes there should be more transparency with TRUSU finances.

“I think students should have the right to view the budget whenever they want,” said Gonyea.

“Ultimately it is our money that is being spent.”

TRUSU’s finances predominately come from the student membership fees.

TRUSU membership fees are among the highest in Western Canada at $75 per semester for students taking nine or more credits, and $40 per semester for students taking eight or less. These amounts do not include a building levy fee (which is why it looks like more on your financial invoice).

Some students feel that a two-hour meeting with Nathan or the short amount of time allotted at the annual general meeting is not sufficient for students to critically examine the budget.

“If students knew where and how their money was being spent they might be more engaged in student life,” said Gonyea.

Other schools have recently had conflicts between student politicians and students over how union money was being spent.

At Kwantlen Polytechnic University students arranged a special annual general meeting to discuss and deal with a board they believed to be misusing some funds.

According to the CBC, University of Prince Edward Island has also come into conflict due to lack of transparency from the student union around the budget.

This has lead to a working budget being published despite protests by the council, which is worried the numbers may be misinterpreted by students.

“Our procedure around finances is not set by us.

“It is dictated in the policy manual of the student union and in the by-laws,” said Lane.

In order to make any structural change to TRUSU there has to be a minimum of 10 per cent of the student population or 50 members in agreement.

This year’s annual general meeting is scheduled to take place on Jan 25, 2012.