LUSU has been hoarding student money for years

#dolladollabills, y’all

By Shannon Anderson, Editor in Chief

Don’t worry, that headline was intentionally inflammatory, but for the best of reasons.

While it is true that LUSU has been sitting on an accumulated surplus of a cool million and some change (think of it more like a year’s tuition for 200 undergrads), which has been growing by approximately one to two hundred  thousand dollars per year, don’t head for the pitchfork and torch emporium just yet.

scrooge (image.by.TomSimpsonViaFlickrAt the most recent LUSU board meeting (remember? The meetings I urged you to go to in our first issue? Your student representative meetings? Yeah, that was kind of foreshadowing) a presentation on LUSU’s growing wealth and how to address it responsibly became the flashpoint of the two hour session. LUSU has indeed been sitting on this money, but not so much out of Scrooge McDuckian capitalistic glee as simply a problem common to most students; a lack of money management skills. This reality, coupled with the routine struggles that LUSU has dealt with regarding the regular high turnover and different accumulated goals and skill sets of each year, has resulted in a regular margin of growth that has caused LUSU’s annual audit to come with the warning that it might look fishy to anyone inquiring about LUSU’s non-profit status as a corporation.

Sebastian Murdoch-Gibson built an impressive case for the strategy that he and President Roman Jakubowski have been working on this semester. The LUSU 2016 Tuition Strategy involves both putting the surplus to use and in the process convincing the administration of Lakehead University that if they simply must raise tuition fees (which they are again, by the way. They have always done so by the maximum amount allowed by Ontario). Citing a decrease in enrolment as the reason for the most recent hike in fees, tuition is set the raise by 3% for the 2016 intake.

Part of the tuition strategy as laid out by Murdoch-Gibson involves a legal commitment from the university to double the amount of money set aside for student financial aid. A certain percentage of tuition fees go towards Financial Aid, such as the bursary packages applied for in the fall and winter. If the university does double that percentage with the increased tuition, then LUSU will likewise commit to matching it to the tune of $140,000 to further bolster student financial aid.

In case this is unclear, this is big. While it is by no means the biggest thing that has occurred in the boardroom this year (seriously! Go to the meetings!), this is likely going to be among the most concrete and effective uses of student time and money that has been proposed this year. This does not only contribute to furthering a positive, as opposed to pitchfork-and-torch, relationship with the administration of Lakehead, but also addresses a serious mismanagement of student money which LUSU has been aware of and unable to adequately respond to. It will also mean many more students have the opportunity to access that pool of Financial Aid available to them, and that the increase in tuition is at least met with an increase in available support.

While the majority of the board members present were in full support of the strategy, there was some dissent.

Joel Kennedy voiced strong objection to the idea of meeting tuition increases with any cooperation with administration on the grounds that it was complicit with the gouging fees students pay and therefore tantamount to theft, the suggestion of which prompted President Jakubowski to interrupt with an objection and be ruled out of order. Following this were some heated but forcibly polite exchanges (handily enough, Chair Adam Krupper had earlier in the evening given a brief presentation regarding acceptable and professional boardroom discussion. Why was such a reminder needed-? Will you come to the damn meetings already!) which may have gone on longer but for Christina Petsinis from Orillia doing admirable duty attempting to reconcile the disparate views while remaining receptive to the Tuition Strategy.

Joe Talarico introduced the sensible consideration that, while a good step, the Tuition Strategy still failed to address the fact that the growing surplus would still be growing even with some of that growth siphoned off into Financial Aid, and that perhaps measures such as reduced student fees to LUSU or increased spending for student services might be part of the Strategy. While further discussion produced a motion to table the Strategy for further adjustment, it was ultimately defeated under the rationale that while the suggestion was good, it was separate to the time sensitive nature of the financial negotiations with Lakehead Administration, and that leaving out additional considerations of LUSU budgeting wouldn’t curtail any possibility of that being discussed as its own motion in the future.

Ultimately, the discussions ended when President Jakubowski finally called the question (which is Boardroom-speak for “can we bloody well vote already”) and the motion to go forward with the LUSU 2016 Tuition Strategy passed by a wide margin, which means that a) you will be hearing much more about this very soon, and b) that there will be a considerably higher volume of Financial Aid money available to students next year.

Interested in more LUSU goings-on? Good, because now that election season is in full swing you’ll be hearing about all of it ad nauseum. Not interested? That’s cool, whatever; it’s only your money.