By Nercya Kalino, Staff Writer
When SFU released its 2021/22 budget plan, a plan that called for a 2% increase in domestic tuition and 4% increase in international tuition, the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) objected. Their objection, in part, was based on their recognition of students’ “unprecedented financial hardship” during COVID-19. Unfortunately, it’s an objection that rings a bit hollow in light of how the SFSS spends our money. As of 2021, a third of the SFSS budget is devoted to running the SFSS. That’s a big change from previous years.
The SFSS claims to be a student advocacy group. For students, by students. But because they draw the overwhelming majority of their funds from students’ bank accounts, we also need to closely examine their actions. Take the most recent year. In the SFSS’ final 2021/2022 Operating budget statement, $3,070,662 out of the total $3,169,725 SFSS revenue came from students in the form of SFSS member fees. That’s 97% of the SFSS’ revenue. Every semester, full-time students pay $42.74 as part of their SFSS membership fee, and part-timers pay $21.38.
So, where’s the money going? Despite some fancy infrastructure investments, the answer is largely disappointing.
What’s of concern are the ballooning administrative costs associated with the Society’s activities. In 2012, the SFSS’ administrative costs totaled $479,389. Those costs were mostly associated with administration, financial office, general office, and “build SFU office.” That’s fine. The SFSS is a big organization. It needs upkeep, supplies to run, and, of course, to pay its workers. But let’s flash forward to 2021, the latest year for which figures are available.
In 2021, those same line items now total $1,567,090. That’s over three times as costly as in 2012. “Administration and financial office” have more than quadrupled, from $193,711 in 2012 to $777,894 in 2021. “General office” and “build SFU office” expenses have more than doubled. The overwhelming majority of those funds are coming from student fees. We’re funding this explosion in SFSS operations. That’s plenty of strain on a student body that, by the SFSS’ own admission, has been experiencing “unprecedented financial hardship.”
Why has running the SFSS become so much more expensive over the course of the decade? The rate of inflation hasn’t doubled, let alone quadrupled to match the expenditures above. We deserve answers. Whether it’s the previous Executive Committee or the current one, the SFSS has become an increasingly controversial organization. From the confusing closure of the Student Union Building to leaks to the dismissal of members over said leaks to the recent resignation of multiple councillors, the group has been placed under more scrutiny than ever. On budgets, they deserve even more scrutiny.
There are, admittedly, some big shiny benefits we’ve gotten for our money. The annual build levy, approved in 2012, currently demands full-time students pay up $90 and part-time students pay $45. We’ve seen those dollars go to some cool projects. $10 million from the levy paid for the new Burnaby Campus stadium. The same fund went towards the construction of the SUB, which, of course, was then denied to us at the height of the pandemic. The 2023 financial budget consultation listed COVID-19 mental health as one of the recommendations. It explains this objective should “provide expanded accessibility and health services including dedicated funding.” That’s all well and good. But it doesn’t answer why we’re paying the SFSS to devote such a substantial (and increasing) portion of its budget to running itself.
That the SFSS publishes its financial statements for everyone to see is fantastic. That it sometimes shells out for big, shiny infrastructure projects is nice. And that it has committed itself to a living wage for its employees is great, too! But what we need are explanations as to why the SFSS has become three times as costly to run over less than a decade.