British Columbia

UNBC student society in major debt, throwing campus life into disarray

The University of Northern B.C.'s undergraduate student society has revealed it is $100,000 in debt and will be making major changes that could have a dramatic effect on campus life.

University pub and coffee shop could close, clubs to lose funding

UNBC's undergraduate student society speaks to students at the 2016 Annual General Meeting. Left to right: general manager Duncan Malkinson, president Arctica Cunningham and VP finance, Eric Depeneau. (UNBC/NUGSS)

The University of Northern B.C.'s undergraduate student society has revealed it is $100,000 in debt and will be making major changes that could have a dramatic effect on campus life.

Among the proposals are permanently closing the campus pub and cutting funding to student clubs.

The information was made public at the annual general meeting of the Northern Undergraduate Student Society, or NUGSS, on Oct. 27.

"This is a culmination of many years of poor planning," NUGSS VP finance Eric Depeneau told the audience at the AGM.

"It shows, frankly, that we're doing a number of things exceptionally poorly."

Mismanaged student fees

Eric Depeneau says years of mismanagement have led to the Northern Undergraduate Student Society holding tens of thousands of dollars of debt. (NUGSS/UNBC)

Depeneau explained that a recent audit uncovered problems with the way money collected by the society has been budgeted and spent.

For example, money that was supposed to be going into student health and dental insurance was being placed into general revenue, as were building fees meant to be set aside for long-term planning and repairs.

The society also owes close to $100,000 for a program that provides students with subsidized bus passes throughout the city of Prince George.

The biggest ongoing financial problem, however, is the Thirsty Moose, an on-campus pub operated by NUGSS.

Campus pub could close in 2017

"The Moose has lost money every year it's been open," said Depeneau. "The only year on paper that the Moose has been successful financially was the year that it had no manager in the pub, causing quality to suffer and leading to other operational mistakes for the society as a whole."

Depeneau said management has been asked to look into raising prices on food and drink, and the search is on for someone to sub-lease both it and the Degrees coffee shop, another financial drain on the society.

"Honestly it's irresponsible of us to continue floating the pub with people's student fees," said board president Arctica Cunningham.

Cunningham warned if no one could be found to lease either business, both could close permanently in September 2017.

UNBC's Thirsty Moose Pub could close in September 2017 if someone can't be found to lease it. (The Thirsty Moose/Facebook)

Major changes already in place

NUGSS has already put some changes into place in order to improve its financial situation. Those include:

  • restructuring the NUGSS board and reducing honoraria by 7.27 per cent.
  • cutting pay to the general manager by 20 per cent.
  • hiring an external bookkeeper to increase financial transparency and accountability.
  • creating new funds to ensure money needed for long-term planning is saved rather than spent on year-to-year operations.

In the coming weeks, it will also be doing the following:

  • adjusting student fees that go towards NUGSS so they increase with the consumer price index, a measure approved four years ago but never implemented.
  • decreasing the amount of money NUGSS gives to campus clubs.
  • investigating the possibility of charging rent to organizations that use the building owned by NUGSS, including the campus newspaper, radio station and Pride Centre.

"This all sounds pretty scary," said Cunningham. "It is pretty scary, to be honest."

​"We need to turn things around very quickly." 

UNBC undergraduate student society president Arctica Cunningham says the debt the society holds is 'scary'. (NUGSS/UNBC)

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