Shakeup on LSPIRG board

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A dramatic shift in the structure of the Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group (LSPIRG) may be coming, as students at Wilfrid Laurier University saw the appointment of a new board of directors at group’s annual general meeting (AGM) last Wednesday.

The new board is severely concerned about the current state of the organization, noting issues such as accountability and transparency.

“It was a great day for students on behalf of Laurier,” said Andrew Windrem, a member of Laurier’s Campus Conservatives and Political Science Association (PSA). Windrem also holds a volunteer position under the university affairs department for the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union, however does not speak on behalf of the organization. “My personal position is that accountability was brought back into an organization to which had lost it.”

As stated in LSPIRG’s financial statement for the year ending in April 2009, $54,976 of their $113,885 budget – which is primarily funded through student fees – went to employee wages. This marked roughly a $4,000 increase from 2008.

In addition, zero dollars were allotted to outsourcing and to donations.

According to Windrem, no updated financial statement has been provided since then. To him, this is alarming and that’s why he, along with some of his acquaintances, ran for the board.

“[There was] failure on behalf on the auditors of that time, we do not have a current financial statement for last year, but they said the numbers, to the best of their knowledge were in that same kind of ball park,” Windrem added. “The idea that you weren’t accountable with over $100,000 of students’ money is not right for the Laurier community, that’s frankly a fact.”

“The fact is that students need an accountable organization and that’s where, any change of direction for LSPIRG will be,” he added. Students contribute around $20 a year if they are enrolled, but must go through an opt-out process to avoid paying that fee.

LSPIRG has provided funds for many working groups such as Laurier 4 Palestine (L4P), the annual Citizenship Conference and Global Studies Students’ Association (GSSA). In the past they have funded groups such as Anti-war at Laurier (AW@L) and Free the Children.

LSPIRG’s current executive director Justine Dogbe declined an interview with The Cord. Furthermore, a full list of elected directors for the current 2011-12 academic year was not provided though it was requested from LSPIRG.

“When I was walking around a couple of candidates they wanted to get their forms nominated, actually all of them, all of the people we asked, had no idea who LSPIRG was, so we told them,” explained Ian Merkley, the president of the PSA. “Yet they are members and they have to pay into it.”

“And that’s just really too bad, there should be more accountability and there’s just not,” he added.

According to Windrem, though informal discussion has revolved around the prospect of altering fees and the overall structure of the organization, the new boards of directors still see value in the organization.

“That’s where I want to make is expressively clear, there’s zero malicious intent, there’s nothing that we’re going to be doing out of malice to say, ‘we’re going to loot the organization, we’re going to burn to the ground’ and do anything like that,” he clarified. “There’s no intent in that.”

LSPIRG has been an organization that was separate from WLUSU since approximately 2005-06. Anthony Piscitelli, one of the students who spearheaded the organization and a former executive director, wants the organization to continue providing its service to students, but he noted that criticism is healthy.

“LSPIRG’s primary role was to enhance the academic environment, it’s to provide students to have an opportunity to ‘create better world,’” Piscitelli said. “If there are concerns with the direction it’s taking, I hope the board will be really active and listen to the voices of the students and make sure organization is reflecting students values and is reflecting that student support in the capacity building of the organization.”

He outlined that the annual Global Citizenship Conference – where the latest installment was held this past weekend — as one of those great opportunities for student leadership building. When organization was created, Piscitelli tried to veer away being a partisan organization like so many other PIRGs are in Ontario.

“We wanted to create a place that was really non-partisan, a place where students can work together to do projects that were a lot bigger than typical things that student can accomplish on their own,” he added.

From Windrem, when the new board is finally put into effect in May, enabling transparency and accountability will be the plan. “There’s research that I can see going through LSPIRG I would be very proud as a Laurier student to see, such as reducing student debt issues in the community,” added Windrem.

“If LSPIRG … happened to work in another capacity to address those issues, maybe in hand in hand with the external affairs committee, as a pooling a resources, I would be thrilled and honoured to work with LSPIRG on that behalf,” he said regarding the prospect of future collaboration with other campus groups.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated since its original publishing date.

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