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Samantha Lucy

What can you buy with $90,000?

If you had $90,000, what would you spend it on? If you’re University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon, you might use it on legal fees for a media information request.

A previously misfiled CBC Freedom of Information and Privacy request revealed this week that Cannon personally signed off on $90,000 of legal fees in 2012 to process an earlier CBC FOIP request. That request looked into questionable spending by Joe Lougheed — a prominent conservative lawyer and former paid lobbyist for the U of C — on tickets to Tory fundraisers on behalf of the university.

After a tip suggesting the university had spent a small fortune on legal fees regarding the request, the CBC filed another FOIP looking into the matter. After that FOIP was initially misfiled, it was discovered this week and revealed the $90,000 legal bill.

To be clear, what Joe Lougheed did was bad for the U of C’s image. Also, it probably shouldn’t take $90,000 in legal fees to process a FOIP request at a large public institution.

The documents don’t explicitly say where the $90,000 went, but the CBC says they “specifically state they were for legal work related to an access-to-information request from CBC.”

Whether malicious or not, the U of C put a large chunk of change into legally processing documents they likely didn’t want to see the light of day.

In the grand scheme of university budgets, $90,000 is a drop in the bucket. But this spending is emblematic of the university’s ceaseless — and often misguided — attempts to control its reputation.

The current U of C administration’s image has taken a beating recently, from an ongoing lawsuit with the Students’ Union over ownership of MacHall to a scandal concerning Cannon’s relationship with Enbridge.

Questionable financial contributions to political parties — even a decade ago — obviously hurt the U of C’s image. The reveal of a $90,000 legal bill concerning information on those financial contributions does damage as well.

With that in mind, we decided to briefly brainstorm a few things $90,000 could buy that might help our university’s image instead.

First, mental health is a buzzword on post-secondary campuses these days, and it’s worth investing in. According to Alberta Occupations and Educational Systems, the average fully certified psychologist working in educational services  makes about $90,000 a year. Hiring another full-time psychologist could provide at least 1,000 extra hours of counselling services to students each year

The $90,000 also could have gone into lowering mandatory non-instructional fees. Divided evenly amongst 24,387 currently enrolled undergraduate students, that’s $3.70 less we would individually have to pay.

And if image is really what university administration is concerned with, they could always invest in the physical appearance of campus.

If the extravagant glass staircase built during the 2013 administration building renovations cost $150,000, surely $90,000 could pay for an upgrade or two around campus. More seating in the TFDL, a few trees planted here and there, a new paint-job on that god-awful mermaid mural leading to Science B — these are simple solutions.

Ultimately, I recognize that I’m not responsible for how the U of C decides  to spend their money, nor am I qualified to be. And $90,000 isn’t a lot of money in the long run. However, it is considerable enough that I can question how and why it is spent.

This CBC report demonstrates yet another item in a long line of administrative scandals in recent years. This kind of administrative mismanagement can only go on so long. Throwing a pile of money at your problems won’t make them go away and it will probably screw you over in the future.

As scandals pile up,  something’s got to give. At this rate, it’s going to give sooner rather than later. And when it does, much like in 2012, $90,000 won’t do any good stopping it.

Melanie WoodsGauntlet Editorial Board

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