Did money go missing at Wilfrid Laurier?

The Cord Weekly, the student newspaper at Wilfrid Laurier University, lost a freedom of information battle with the university after taking their case all the way to the office of the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner.

The Cord Weekly was seeking copies of an audit WLU conducted into its OneCard office.

The OneCard is the university’s internal debit card system which serves as the mandatory meal card for residence students and transacts millions of dollars of food sales during the school year. Students use the card to pay for meals on campus and can use it at a variety of off-campus retailers including local restaurants, convenience stores, and the local taxi company.

According to The Cord Weekly, the university hired external auditing firm KPMG to extensively investigate the university’s OneCard office between November and February last school year. Four months ago, the newspaper requested a copy of this audit.

The University refused to release the document citing employee confidentially exemptions available under Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The Cord Weekly appealed the university’s decision to the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner but was unsuccessful.

The university told The Cord Weekly in a statement, “The forensic audit conducted in the fall of 2007 by KPMG Forensic of the WLU OneCard System did not disclose that any WLU student lost any funds or that any WLUSU business lost any funds.”

Notice that the university did not say that no money was lost by the university, only that there was no funds lost by students or the students’ union.

The Cord Weekly asked the university to elaborate on their statement. From the article: “The university, however, declined to comment on whether any financial impropriety took place that could have affected individuals who are not WLU students, or non-WLUSU businesses.”

This is a completely unacceptable response from a public institution. Full disclosure of the truth is in order.

It’s entirely possible that student funds or WLUSU funds went missing and the university funded this shortfall so that they could claim that students and the students’ union did not lose funds.

The public has a right to know if any funds were mismanaged, went missing, or were diverted. The university has some explaining to do.

This is a case of the major crisis with Canada’s public universities: the lack of accountability of these massive taxpayer-funded operations.

Postscript: Kudos to The Cord Weekly for their work on this story. This story took a lot of time and resources on their part; the kind of time and resources that few media outlets (both student and professional) apply to a story. Good work on the part of CUP in assisting them with legal counsel.