Friday, January 7, 2011

Why I Do Not Donate To Universities

The following two stories, the first of which could only be obtained by the Hamilton Spectator through a Freedom of Information Request, demonstrate two of the reasons I do not donate to universities:

Mac defends $13,000 to fly former president’s wife to Australia

McMaster University spent more than $13,000 on executive class airfare for the spouse of former president Peter George so she could accompany him on a week-long trip to Australia in 2006.

The $13,125 spent for return flights from Toronto to Adelaide for George’s spouse was part of nearly $30,000 in expenses he submitted for attending the Australian conference, hosted by the Association of Commonwealth Universities in April 2006. The documents were released to The Spectator through a Freedom of Information request.

The airfare for George’s spouse is equivalent to the average yearly tuition for two McMaster undergraduate students.

The university also paid $700 AUS (about $588 CDN) for George’s spouse to attend social activities and city tours associated with the conference.

The trip also included five nights’ accommodation at the Hyatt Regency in Adelaide.

Documents released to The Spectator also showed that McMaster paid $445 in airfare so George’s spouse could accompany him to New York City in March 2006 for what was billed as a four-day trip for “donor cultivation.”

A McMaster spokesperson said the spousal travel arrangements in both cases were pre-approved by the chair of the university’s board of governors and considered an appropriate use of the school’s funds.

“Under Peter’s contract, spousal travel was permitted when it was travel that served the purposes of the university,” said Andrea Farquhar, McMaster’s director of public and government relations.

“This wasn’t a holiday,” Farquhar added. “It was a trip for a conference. It was just a week, so it was essentially fly there, do the conference and fly home.”

George attended the Australian conference to speak on issues related to leadership and fundraising. At the time, the university was in the midst of an ambitious four-year fundraising campaign that ultimately brought in $473 million.

The fundraising campaign necessitated a significant amount of travel, Farquhar noted, and there were times when it was appropriate for spouses to be in attendance.

“Spouses often play roles in different kinds of events,” she added. “They can be called upon to meet with alumni or donors or spouses or business or government representatives or other university representatives.”

Information obtained from an earlier Spectator FOI request showed that George claimed more than $200,000 in expenses from January 2006 to August 2008, while another $185,000 in expenses was claimed by McMaster’s five vice-presidents during the same period.

The Spectator also requested receipts for a $2,676 expense submitted by George to cover the cost of a rental car for the month of October 2006.

The university indicated that the actual receipt was lost. The university said that the vehicle rented by George was a Nissan Altima.

The following represents the flip side of McMaster's largess with its employees, and is written by Cupe 3906, the bargaining unit in the new labour dispute:

To Hamilton Area Unions and Labour Organisations and allies:

I am writing to inform you of a pending strike at McMaster University
by the Hospitality staff who are members of SEIU Local 2. At present
picket lines are scheduled go up Friday Jan. 7th at 6am.

For the past few months we have been in negotiations with McMaster
University and have reached an impasse at the bargaining table.

The employer, a publicly funded institution, has demanded concessions
and roll backs from some of the lowest paid workers at the University.
Importantly the administration has asked to remove a job security
clause that would then allow them to move to casualize the workforce.
This would mean the eventual end of 175 decent paying full and
part-time jobs in Hamilton. In essence the administration wants to take
these jobs away and create poverty level McJobs in their place.

Several years ago we worked with the University to adopt a living wage
policy that would ensure the university paid its staff a living wage
and would not contract out our jobs. The new administration wants to
throw that out and begin a race to the bottom.

At present, barring a miraculous change of mind by the employer, we are
heading into a strike position as of 6am Friday January 7th.

It is sad that an institution funded by public money can see fit to
give raises to its top administrators but demands the lowest paid give
what little they have.

We are hoping we can count on your support and where possible to ask
members to respect our picket lines, where that may not be possible we
ask that you request your members who may have to go into McMaster to
spend as much time as possible discussing the situation with our

Further we will in the near future be calling for a solidarity rally at
the picket lines and we hope you will be able to send members from your
union or affiliates.

Of course all support on the lines is appreciated.

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