Corruption in the school yard


The halls of higher learning are institutions that prepare young adults to succeed and overcome the challenges they will face in the real world. It’s fitting, then, that within these halls greed and corruption can be found, just like in the real world.

The recent firing of the head of McMaster University’s part-time student association amid accusations of misuse of funds should give students across Canada pause to consider how their money is spent.

Hundreds of Millions in Student Coffers

All students in post-secondary school pay into student governments. At Sheridan College $66 per student goes to the Student Union for a total of $3,658,160 in 2011, and that’s just one school.

With 130 publicly funded community colleges and 96 universities, student governments control hundreds of millions of students’ hard-earned dollars each year.

Funds raised by a student government are supposed to be spent on services that benefit the student body, such as networking events, entertainment, and legal aid. Most importantly, student government acts as a representative of the student body, to voice their concerns to the administration.

Student government operates as an independent corporation, separate from the school’s administration. Unfortunately, just like in the real world, governments can be the playgrounds for corruption.

Student government corruption

At McMaster, the facts have not all come to light, but the association is accused of using student fees to purchase wedding gifts and fund overseas trips that had nothing to do with the school.

The Hamilton Spectator was about to publish a more in-depth article with information from a confidential source about further corruption, when the University announced that the head of the association had been fired.

The Sheridan College Student Union is no stranger to scandal either. In 2007/2008, a Sheridan Sun investigation found that the Union had used student fees to fund vacations, among other things that did not qualify as a service to the student body.

That year, the SSU also failed to hold its annual general meeting at which the budget is discussed with the student body. The meeting is supposed to be mandatory and is crucial for upholding accountability.

According to the campus watch organization, Ontario Campus Association (OCA), there have been cases in Canada of student governments using funds to put down payments on houses, give out undocumented and illegal loans, and pay lawyers to threaten student journalists for exposing their fraud. This all sounds much like what we hear everyday in the corporate world.

Where are the watchdogs?

The halls of academia, which have been held so high in society, should be free of this corruption. The fact that the scandals have seeped their way into these once noble institutions may reflect the failing of these institutions to properly oversee and audit student government spending.

Independent organizations such as OCA act as watchdogs for corruption in student governments across the province. Organizations like these supply guidance and resources to students who find themselves victims of a corrupt government. The best way to battle the corruption is to hold those responsible accountable, and to spread the word.

It seems student governments reflect the world they operate in all too well. Considering the vast sums of money at stake, an examination of these institutions is long overdue.

Are they there to prepare a generation to effect positive change on a society that struggles morally, or simply to perpetuate that struggle? Perhaps if students tackle corruption in schools, they can learn to better tackle the ones they face in the real world.

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