Northern Undergraduate Student Society reveals financial problems
Shown left to right: President Arctica Cunningham, Vice-President Internal Ana Saenz, General Manager Duncan Malkinson, and Vice-President Finance Eric Depenau. Image courtesy of the Northern Undergraduate Student Society.
Students at the University of Northern British Columbia were surprised to learn this month that their undergraduate students’ union was greatly in debt. It was announced by the group that Northern Undergraduate Student Society services would be impacted as the leadership of the group attempts to right the ship.
The nature of the financial situation
“We as directors, and our management, have all been pouring over the audited financial statements, minutes and records from the last 10 years and while there is a lot that go in to these statements and the numbers at times require some interpretation there is a clear narrative forming,” Eric Depenau, Vice-President Finance of the Northern Undergraduate Student Society (NUGSS) told The Western Student. “(NUGSS) has slipped further and further in to financial insecurity over the last seven years. Our year end totals show significant loses over all year after year.”
The financial statements of NUGSS show year over year of deficit at least as far back as 2009, raising questions about the competency of previous year’s student leaders. Fees collected from students that were meant to go towards maintaining a building have been reallocated to the general funds in the past, effectively postponing the crisis.
Depenau told The Western Student that the current operating fund deficit is roughly $153,000, with an overall $99,000 deficit. NUGSS is still managing two major loans, a 2010 $100,000 loan meant to cover basic expenses and an older $1.8 million loan from when the group built its student centre building.
“What this means is that we need to discuss the current spending practices of NUGSS and see whether we can continue to provide the same services that we have for years. For members this could mean a number of things, like decreased funding for Student Led Organizations, it could mean a sublease of the campus pub or any other number of measures. We are looking at our whole operating model to make sure that we get on to a sustainable path for the future,” Depenau said.
Origins of the financial situation
“… (Y)ears of financial insecurities led to a 100,000 loan being sought in 2010 to assist in operational challenges,” said Depenau. “Another example could be identified in the spotty record keeping that we have had in the past.”
Depenau suggests that there are many reasons for NUGSS’s poor financial standing, but doesn’t lay the blame on former student leaders.
“These practices (and in all likelihood other factors) led to four years of missed Consumer Price Index adjustments to the Student Fees that NUGSS receives. Yet another example is that despite the efforts of our board, staff, and management the Thirsty Moose Pub has consistently realized significant loses,” continued Depenau.
Services and pub to be impacted
The Thirsty Moose Pub, owned and operated by UNBC students through their undergraduate students’ union, is a focus of these financial woes. In the previous year alone, the Pub cost students $40,000 more than it brought in, and expense Depenau says it would be “irresponsible” to continue. NUGSS is review options to let other companies run the pub during portions of the year or fully closing the establishment.
In 2013-2014 the Simon Fraser Student Society lost $475,000 on its food services. In the same year the University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society lost $250,000 for food services. This is part of trend of campus pub and food service programs that fail for a variety of reasons.
The Monetary Affairs Commission Fund, administered by a working committee that hears financial assistance appeals for student events, has been cut by 20 percent.
Student leaders to cut positions, take pay cuts
Depenau claims that NUGSS leaders are reviewing options to reduce the number of positions on its board of directors. Additionally, elected students have agreed to reduce their own pay by 7.27 percent.
The General Manager Duncan Malkinson, who was the President of the society before resigning so he could be hired as the lead staff member, has agreed to a 20 percent pay cut.
Moving forward at NUGSS
“The necessity of some of these changes are overdue, others have only recently emerged,” Depenau tells students of UNBC. “Nevertheless, we have a plan in place to surpass the short and long term challenges our organization faces. When this process of rectifying our situation is successfully completed we will be well poised to reevaluate the NUGSS strategic priorities and mission. This will undoubtedly bring our organization back in line with its intended purpose, serving the students of UNBC in Prince George and the regions.”
Moving forward, Depenau says NUGSS members will be consulted about changes to the students’ union.
While the financial issues of the NUGSS have been fairly high profile, including a CBC article covering the issue at length, the current leadership of the society has a comparatively measured approach. At many schools, financial issues fester beneath the surface until only extreme solutions can fix them. The NUGSS leadership is taking a pay cut and putting moderate cuts to services such as student events, ensuring students continue to see benefits from the society while changes are underway.