The accounting firm that SMCSU retained to investigate potential financial irregularities has completed its report. We have made the Executive Summary available on our website. Because the full report contains the names of individuals whose privacy we must respect, it will not be made public. That said, the executive summary captures the nature and extent of the problem that we are working with student leaders to correct.
The salient points from the report are as follows:
- Student funds have been seriously mismanaged. Despite the best efforts of the auditors and of the university’s own finance department, many expenditures cannot be accounted for.
- While some of these problems can be attributed to inexperience or, worse, negligence, in all-too many cases, we have found evidence of off-the-books purchases of personal items, improper and un-recorded payments from suppliers to students (“kick backs”), and theft. While some officials have admitted wrongdoing, it is highly likely that that there were more cases of wrongdoing than have come to light.
- Some of the most senior officials in recent SMCSU administrations embraced a culture of entitlement. Expensive dinners, free alcohol and off-site events that involved property damage and hazing were part of this tradition.
- Students who were part of this corrupt sub-group worked to indoctrinate and implicate members of each succeeding administration, justifying the wrongdoing as being part of SMCSU culture.
As disappointing and discouraging as this is, we are already turning a corner. I use the word “we,” because SMCSU is not some separate entity set apart from our St. Mike’s community. As we made clear in a policy document last year—something that constituted a first step in the rebuilding process—student government is an essential part of who and what we are. This strong sense of connectedness, of responsibility for one another, is something that has always distinguished St. Mike’s.
Conscious of this, we have appointed an administrative adviser who has worked closely with student leaders this year. This role will continue. Our finance department has spent many hours helping students to improve procedures to ensure accuracy, probity and transparency. This has included the elimination of cash transactions, a major source of past problems. And we are committed to providing leadership and other necessary training, believing that student government should represent a first step in a life of service to others.
We are also consulting with students on much-needed reforms to student government. In looking back over the 6 years of SMCSU governance covered by the audit, we are faced with some unpleasant realities. Government itself failed the students. Student representatives on SMCSU, and student journalists at The Mike should have been in the position to ask tough questions and demand accountability and transparency. The audit should inspire students to think about structures, procedures and traditions that have contributed to this failure. The real tragedy in making mistakes is in failing to learn from them.
That said, I know many of the students who have been involved in recent SMCSU administrations. For the most part, they are serious, honest, hard-working and dedicated to this University and its mission. My strong sense, borne out by the audit, is that student government essentially operated on three levels. The well-intentioned majority was largely sidelined, kept at arm’s length from information and decision making. Another group refrained from actual wrongdoing, but was aware of it and failed to speak out and stop it. Finally, a smaller group of students held real control of money, information and decision-making. This group, essentially an entitled elite, turned their backs on the students and the institution that they should have served, and treated SMCSU as a private club.
I am also convinced that the University bears some responsibility for what has happened, having become so consumed with internal affairs that it lost sight of what matters most: providing an exceptional academic experience for our students, one shaped by our fidelity to Goodness, Discipline and Knowledge.
Where do we go from here?
Students now have the opportunity to learn from this experience, and to rethink student government at St. Michael’s to ensure that it serves students and our larger community effectively, faithfully and according to the highest standards of good governance. It is clear that specific structures, practices and activities enabled wrongdoing. More troubling is the moral failure, the perverse notion that service on SMCSU is about personal advantage rather than service to our students and to our community.
For my part, I intend to meet with everyone named in the report. I will make it clear that we can’t heal as a community unless people are completely honest about what’s happened. I am going to insist on the return of any funds still unaccounted for, seek specific contributions (depending on the nature of the involvement) of voluntary service, and, in the most serious cases, ask individuals to withdraw from student government and related activities. This will include some recent graduates who are still active in broader campus life.
It is fitting that this struggle is before us in the season of Lent. Let us reflect on this as a community, remembering that at the end of this hard season of penance, we have the promise of Easter.
President and Vice-Chancellor