Emily Macphail/the Gauntlet

Editorial: Doug Black abuses university money

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Most University of Calgary students expect their hefty tuition fees to go towards quality education and resources on campus. But where is students’ tuition money actually going? First-class plane tickets and a limousine ride to Ranchman’s Club aren’t things one would expect hard-earned tuition money to help pay for. However, senator-in-waiting and U of C chair of the Board of Governors Doug Black claimed these — to name just a few — “expenses” to the university. Black claimed over $28,000 in expenses in an 18-month period between February 2011 and August 2012. The U of C reimbursed Black for these expenses. Comparatively, the previous board chair, Jack Perraton, claimed a mere $434 in three and a half years. 

Students’ tuition money may have helped pay for $550 of wine the night of Black’s outing at Ranchman’s and nearly $3,000 in first-class airfare to Ottawa. Black claimed nearly $1,300 for two nights in Houston and the same amount for a two-night stay in Toronto. According to U of C policy, flights shorter than five hours must be economy class and only standard hotel rooms are allowed. Black breached this policy enormously by his lavish spending, and the university made a serious error allowing him to claim these expenses.

Frankly, students should be outraged. The blatant abuse of student and university finances is inexcusable — the U of C community deserves better than that. If the U of C is truly on a path to its Eyes High goal of being a top-five Canadian university by 2016, then student funds can’t be utterly abused by the university and Black’s outrageous spending.

In a CBC article, Scott Hennig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, who is taking Black to task, put it best: “I mean, you got to think some kid at the U of C whose tuition is helping pay for some of this is probably scrambling to get together $500 for his rent this month, let alone staying at a $500 a night hotel.” 

In a Gauntlet news article on page 4, U of C president Elizabeth Cannon said students’ money was not used to pay back the expenses. However, Hennig succinctly countered that claim when he told the Gauntlet, “It’s not like the money was earmarked from some pot of gold somewhere that they found at the end of a rainbow.”

Black immediately paid the university back nearly $5,400 — a laughable portion of his entire spending — after the “errors” in claims were discovered under very suspicious circumstances. The improper claims were discovered after Cannon expanded the quarterly audit to include the board chair's expenses. The university's quarterly review commenced in June 2011. However, on July 11, the U of C received a request from Hennig under Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. It seems too coincidental that the “errors” were found around the same time of the FOIP request. It also seems unlikely that claims were indeed “errors” unbeknownst to the university administration. Although Black paid for the two "errors" he made in June, there are many more that are being looked at, including a $112.45 dinner for Black and Cannon and a $120 private driver that Black took to the dinner.

The university is, however, working to fix these mistakes — whatever that means. Black should fully pay back all expenses that were wrongfully claimed. There have been suggestions that Black should step down from his position as board chair and we, the Gauntlet, agree. His extravagant spending on what may be student dime is inexcusable.

If this wasn’t already enough of a breach of confidence, reasons for his trips are also questionable. Why did the university allow Black to make claims for trips outside his jurisdiction? In addition to his role as board chair at the U of C, he is also the chairman of the Michaëlle Jean Foundation. The trip to Ottawa that he expensed the U of C for was to attend the ceremony where Jean was inducted as chancellor of the University of Ottawa. 

Black has been traveling in Europe and has been unavailable to comment about his claims.

Premier Alison Redford has recently introduced rules that restrict what MLAs can claim, and their receipts are to be published every two months. Post-secondary institutions in Alberta — including the U of C — plan to follow Redford’s lead. The U of C especially needs to adhere to stricter rules and disclose the expenses of its high officials. However, given the serious lack of judgment by the university recently, it’s fair to be more than hesitant about the U of C’s ambitions to be fiscally responsible. 

Yes, mistakes do happen, but it is crucial that the U of C works towards financial accountability. Black should be paying back a lot more than $5,400. Furthermore, even though elected, Black should not take his place as senator. Albertans — particularly U of C students — should not give Black another outlet to abuse the financial system for his own benefit. 

Get lost, Doug Black.