Groups asking for student fees find headaches in audit process

The University’s original intent was for groups to be audited every one or two years. Now, the system follows a two- or three-year cycle.

Raya Zimmerman

Amid fall semester finals, Michael Blyakher learned Hillel: The Jewish Student Center would undergo an audit before being recommended any student service fees for the next year.
Organizers for the event said a popped balloon caused the pandemonium.His work paid off. Hillel received exactly what it requested âÄî $28,017. Some of the other nine groups audited this year underwent a more tumultuous process. The Minnesota Student Association compiled a 99-page report to get an extra $51,000 after Deloitte and Touche made an auditing error.
Since the initiation of the auditing process, the number of groups to be audited has doubled, specifically over the past five years, Megan Sweet, assistant to the chief of staff in the Office of Student Affairs and adviser to the Student Services Fees Committee, said.
The UniversityâÄôs original intent was for groups to be audited every one or two years. Now, the system follows a two- or three-year cycle.
The University of MinnesotaâÄôs ControllerâÄôs Office decides which groups are chosen for audits based on a revolving cycle that doesnâÄôt depend on the nature of the group, whether it be student government or multicultural.
Blyakher said student groups should be audited more often because the gap in time where groupsâÄô finances are left unsupervised could be detrimental to their funding.
âÄúIf weâÄôre not audited for a while, things could fall apart between now and then with how many treasurers we go through,âÄù Blyakher said. âÄúIf a group is slipping, the error will be caught earlier rather than later.âÄù
He said that compiling the documents for Deloitte and Touche was âÄúa little bit of a struggleâÄù because the documents they prepared were different than what the company wanted. He said he hopes next year Hillel will have an easier time after changes he made to cater to the auditing company.
âÄúIt would be beneficial if [the SSFC] laid out the framework for exactly what we should do when we spend our money,âÄù Blyakher said.
Sweet said the committee is considering having Deloitte and Touche offer pre-audit trainings with groups so they can be more successful in the future, although that would mean taking money away from groups for the audit process itself.
Auditing is just another step student groups must take before receiving their funding, along with gaining approval from the fees committee.
Queer Student Cultural Center treasurer Madison Taylor-Hayden agreed student groups should receive training because âÄúthe punishment for these things is just out of control.
âÄúThereâÄôs extremely harsh punishment for groups who donâÄôt follow everything perfectly,âÄù she said.
QSCC requested $50,000 for the 2011-12 academic year, but since the group submitted its application within an hour after the deadline, it is still expected to receive $0 for next year.
Taylor-Hayden said when they submitted their first appeal, the QSCC understood that the fees committee could accept it, accept it with some punishment or reject it completely.
The fees committee chose to reject it completely.
As a result of accounting errors found during its audit, the Black Student Union did not receive any funding for next year. According to the SSFCâÄôs rationale, one of the groupâÄôs shortfalls was that it âÄúfailed to produce records for multiple transactions.âÄù
âÄúI just think that if theyâÄôre going to punish us so hard, then there should be some way for them to also educate us,âÄù Taylor-Hayden said, referring to the BSUâÄôs situation.
Sweet acknowledged that some of the complications from student groupsâÄô audits are the leadership transition they go through each year and said itâÄôs âÄúsomething thatâÄôs difficult for all student organizations.âÄù
She said there are some resources available, like assistance from Student Unions and Activities staff.
âÄúI know itâÄôs challenging, but in order to be successful, it should be a priority for groups. And a lot of that entails determining an infrastructure that can be continued from year to year,âÄù Sweet said.
From the SSFCâÄôs perspective, student groups receive money from every student on campus, and âÄúso there has to be some sort of accountability for those dollars,âÄù she said.
One group that was satisfied with both the auditing process and the fees process was the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group.
They received $109,548 âÄî only $850 less than their initial request. The group uses an outside party to audit their books to ensure they stay fiscally responsible and are âÄúon top of everything,âÄù Kate Goerdt, co-chairwoman of MPIRG, said.
âÄúWeâÄôre proud of that; thatâÄôs why we got our money this year,âÄù Goerdt said.