Heads need to roll in WLUSU management

On Friday it was announced to the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union (WLUSU) board of directors that the cost overrun for the Terrace expansion would be $430,541.13.

Almost immediately the fingers of blame started flying to Mike McMahon, general manager of WLUSU, the university, the 2007-08 board of directors and on and on and on. There is no more certain a sign of gross incompetence than when the blame game begins.

What we do know is that McMahon and WLUSU president Kyle Walker were aware of the potential cost overrun since a site visit in the spring and failed to inform the WLUSU board of directors. Management was aware that the funding provided by the student life levy (SLL) would not cover all of the expenses the project was incurring. In fact, they have been giving nothing but a steady stream of positive reports since the beginning of the construction. This is absolutely unacceptable. The students of Laurier have elected the board of directors to oversee the finances of WLUSU. To keep them in the dark is to keep all of us in the dark about projects that are financed with our money.

If the board was informed promptly of the coming cost overrun before construction began, more could have been done to contain costs or the cancel the project outright. Instead, as Kyle Hocking put it, the WLUSU board of directors was held hostage by management: faced with cancelling a half completed project or taking out a loan. That should not have been the choice that faced our directors.

It is absurd that the budget could have been so wildly inaccurate. Some of the additional expenses such as the utility room and necessary plumbing retrofit should have been in the initial quote. Whoever was responsible for dealing with the contractors failed miserably to extract the real costs of the project for past boards to examine. The passage of time did not change anything. That is a cop-out to cover the asses of those responsible.

It is clear that there needs to be a systematic review of how capital expenditures are approved and managed. The lack of supervision over the Terrace renovation is unacceptable. There needs to be an increase in communication between the board of directors and WLUSU management and if a breakdown continues to occur the board needs to assert their power to ensure that students’ money is being allocated in the population’s best interest. A situation like this cannot be allowed to happen again.

It is important that students put this number in perspective. The cost of overrun itself comes to approximately $30 per student and that’s not taking into account the additional million dollars that was budgeted. It is the equivalent of a year’s tuition for approximately 83 students. It is the equivalent of a thousand dollar merit or needs-based scholarship for 430 students. Heck, if we spent the money equally as responsibly we could buy close to 11,000 2-4 cases of beer and have one hell of a party.

Students are no doubt thinking how they could have better spent that money and for good reason. Tuition and student debt is on the rise and more students are working one or more jobs to pay the bills more than ever before.

Students entrust their fees to the union under the expectation that their money is used wisely to better the educational experience of themselves and others. Between blowing money on pointless televisions, a giant red sign and the Terrace renovation cost overrun, this past year leaves students shaking their heads. Students demand better.

Sadly, the actors involved in this boondoggle have been all too eager to use the blurred lines of responsibility to avoid scrutiny. They cannot be let off the hook. In any business, incompetence leading to such a massive cost overrun would be grounds for immediate termination. There have been no repercussions in this case. The students’ union board of directors should have forced management to cut other areas of spending to make up for their gross misjudgment. Students want answers and demand those responsible be held accountable. Heads need to roll.

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