Provincial Auditor General’s findings reveal pervasive structural and governance issues at MUNL

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Newfoundland and Labrador’s Auditor General released a damning report highlighting widespread issues of spending, accountability and governance.

The roughly 80-page document included numerous reports of high salaries for top administrators, lavish spending, inappropriate usage of funds by Former President Vianne Timmons and very little in the means of accountability.

The report while quite extensive included notable highlights such as:

  • Memorial had the highest level of executive salaries in Canada when compared to other universities ($130,043 higher than a comparable public sector job). 
  • Memorial University enlisted the services of search firms to hire 15 management positions costing $1.1 million of which a third no longer work at MUN.
  • 11% of executive expenses were deemed ‘unreasonable’ or excessive with a notable $1,792 spent on custom-made chocolates.
  • Approximately one-third of the University’s expenditures fall under the discretion of the President and do not undergo regular assessment by the Board of Regents. 
  • The Board of Regents lacks an active role in making decisions and providing directions to the University’s 5 entities: C-CORE, Memorial University Recreation Complex Inc. (The Works), Campus Childcare Inc. (Campus Childcare), Genesis Group Inc, and Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation.

Along with numerous other examples exhibiting a surplus in spending, and deficit in governance. 

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But some have begun to ask, how was this allowed to occur? What steps are being taken to ensure this does not happen again? and what reforms need to be implemented?

The Board of Regents, collegial governance and MUN’s democratic deficit

MUNFA and MUNSU say the report is indicative of what they have been voicing concerns about for years.

Credit: MUNSU (via X)
Credit: MUNFA (via X)

LUMUN said they were ‘Gobsmacked’ by executive misspending, comparing costs of a singular dinner highlighted in the report to what PCI’s (Per-Course Instructors) are allocated for a semester of teaching.

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Likewise, this may be attributed to the flawed institutional mechanisms for accountability.

Memorial operates under two bodies: the senate and the board of regents. Faculty members have representation on the senate, which is responsible for decisions around academic matters.

However, faculty could not hold positions on the board of regents until May of this year, with the amendment of the Memorial University Act by the provincial government. The board of regents is responsible for making decisions regarding property, revenue and business.

The composition of the board has been said to be problematic for years, as was highlighted during the MUNFA strike. What’s more, the board at large has also been criticized as a poor system of governance and oversight.

Specifically, the university was unable to provide a policy outlining the monitoring of its non-operating funds, which includes a substantial $190 million grant from the provincial government. The audit also shed light on the fact that the allocation of these provincial funds often rested in the hands of one individual, the President, without any discernible checks or balances in place on the part of the board of regents.

In a series of tweets from Political Science Professor Russell Alan Williams, he states that the systems designed to hold university management accountable had been eroded.

Credit: Dr. Russell Alan Williams (via X)

Lessons Learned?

Since the report was released, the university administration has said that it accepts the findings of the auditor general and will make changes to its operations as well as follow through with changes already underway, such as the elimination of the usage of search firms and modifications to the VP hiring process.

In a media release, the university has said it is committed to ‘A Renewed Focus on Governance and Oversight.’

“There are lessons to learn from the auditor’s findings. As I noted, changes already implemented are improving our operations and supporting our academic mission,” said President Bose.

The administration has also announced plans to establish an “executive council” with the aim of enhancing oversight, decision-making, and financial monitoring. However, there is a legitimate concern regarding the effectiveness of this quasi-legislative body and whether it might further erode the authority of what should fall within the jurisdiction of the board of regents.

The future of governance at Memorial University remains uncertain, and only time will reveal whether improvements will come. There are concerns that the Auditor General’s Report may embolden the government to curtail the university’s autonomy. 

However, it is evident that internal restructuring emerges as the most promising path forward for an institution grappling with the repercussions of inadequate management decisions and a scarcity of effective oversight mechanisms. Transferring responsibility from one ineffective body disconnected from the wider university to another is not the solution to MUN’s problems.

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Bruce March
Bruce March is a 4th year student majoring in Political Science and Economics. He is passionate about student issues, public policy and our community at large