CUPE launches new initiative to promote transparency

Where’s the Funding? Campaign asks where university money is being directed

Vice Principal (Finance) Caroline Davis said Queen's is transparent about its finances.
Vice Principal (Finance) Caroline Davis said Queen's is transparent about its finances.

The Ontario University Workers' Coordinating Committee (OUWCC) — an association of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) university workers — launched a social media campaign this week to promote transparency on university campuses in Ontario.

CUPE Communications Officer Kevin Wilson said the goal of the Where’s the Funding? (WTF) campaign is to highlight the lack of transparency in regards to funding on university campuses, and to ask where money is being directed.

The end goal of the WTF campaign is to make different audiences aware of the lack of transparency in regards to funding in universities, and thereby create administrative change.

"We know that Ontario is probably the lowest per capita funder of the university sector, but there's still millions of dollars, both in taxes and in student fees and tuition, that go to universities. It's not always clear whether that money is going towards adequately funding both programs and towards general quality of campus life," Wilson said.

"There's also a major question that we're trying to highlight and that's the lack of transparency requirement for universities — they're not subject to the same level of reporting that other provincial agencies are."

Wilson said this campaign is predominantly taking place over social media so students can help identify issues on their own campus.

"What people are being encouraged to do — and this is not just the workers but also students — is to identify places on their campus where there are obvious under-funding issues going on," he said.

"Things like residences in extremely shabby conditions, mold, outdated equipment, overcrowded classrooms — basically identify those things, find them, take your smartphones out, write a small little message, take a picture of it and upload it to Tumblr.”

Janice Folk-Dawson, chair of OUWCC, said there are different levels of transparency at every campus.

"The [provincial] system itself is not designed to be a system that reports to the public about what's actually happening with the funding in universities. We do know that there are a couple of different budgets in play — they've got an operating budget and a capital budget, and we get to see the information on the operating budget and they ‘cry poor’,” Folk-Dawson said.

"What they forget to do is show you the other pocket, their capital budget, which is all of their assets and corporate holdings,” she added. “I think you'll be quite impressed with the amount of assets that these universities hold."

Folk-Dawson said while the universities have assets that they’re required to reveal, there isn't enough funding to facilitate a “positive student experience.”

Neither Wilson nor Folk-Dawson were able to give specific examples of ways in which Queen’s isn’t transparent.

Queen’s Vice Principal of Finance, Caroline Davis, said she disagrees with CUPE's allegation that Queen's isn’t transparent about where the funds go.

"The charitable status of Queen's depends on us being able to produce audited financial statements, if Canada Revenue Agency asks for them, so we absolutely have to do it,” Davis said.

The Board of Trustees approved audited financial statements for the fiscal year ending Apr. 30, 2014 at a meeting on Sept. 19.

“To my mind, having audited financial statements fulfills any requirements of financial transparency that anyone might have,” Davis said.

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