The McMaster Association of Part-time Students (MAPS) Executive Director's seat is occupied once again – but not by Sam Minniti. His replacement, Kyle Johansen, is a corporate crisis professional who has been brought in to pick up the pieces and get the organization back on its feet. His mandate is simple: to expedite the implementation of solid governance, operational transparency and financial accountability. It's the execution that's going to be complex.
“The current board – who are exceptionally dedicated individuals – were put in the difficult position of learning about a problem while simultaneously trying to solve it,” Johansen explained. “My objective is to look at what was missing that allowed the problems to occur, and using my experience and current best practice evidence, create a new approach that attends to the original issues, and proactively protects the organization going forward.”
In light of the allegations of financial mismanagement of MAPS, the mandate of financial accountability is perhaps the most pressing. Johansen addressed two major goals in terms of addressing this issue. He emphasized how important it is “that the reporting of quarterly and annual financial statements should be intuitive to a non-finance person and show how money was spent in relation to the organization’s mandate.”
He also identified the second element of financial accountability as “placing reasonable limits on any one person’s authority to spend money, as well as implementing changes that would require increasing support by the board – and in some cases the membership – for significant spending decisions.” This comes as no surprise following the allegations regarding personal spending of Association funds that MAPS came under fire for earlier this year.
One project that will directly affect student experience is Johansen's aim to connect the organization with the part-time students that feel alienated from it. “The Board and I are looking at ways to increase the level of engagement with part-time students. My work with local health integration networks showed me how necessary it is to understand the issues and concerns of those you serve,” Johansen said. “And as much as I will enjoy helping the Board make MAPS a leader in student government best practices, I will get the most satisfaction from knowing that MAPS will continue for another 35 years as a valuable, relevant, and responsive advocate.”
Johansen, a Mac alumnus, has been hired on to achieve these goals during a three-month temporary term. Any potential extension to Johansen's contract would be limited to getting the organization back on track, not leading it long-term.
It remains to be seen who the permanent face of MAPS will be. As Johansen explained, “My skills and experience are best suited to bringing organizations into alignment with members’ expectations, public policy requirements, and building the mechanisms that will ensure the organization maintains that alignment. Whoever assumes the permanent role of Executive Director will be responsible for using those mechanisms and being accountable based on them. To use an analogy… I am really good at building the ship, but not very interested in sailing it.”
After being fired as the executive director of MAPS in January, Sam Minniti is alleging that he’s the victim of wrongful dismissal. He’s suing MAPS, McMaster University and some of his former colleagues for more than $500,000 altogether in damages.
The University and MAPS are now each in the process of reviewing their legal options. This is the second major lawsuit McMaster University has been named in during the past year.
Court documents dated Monday, May 27 state that Minniti is seeking the following:
Against MAPS and McMaster University:
$225,000 for wrongful dismissal and breach of contract/unpaid wages
$88,116.75 for unjust enrichment
$100,000 for mental distress and punitive damages
Against former MAPS president and board members:
$88,116.75 for unpaid wages and vacation pay
In 2012, the University’s audit of MAPS spurred concerns about the organization’s business practices and spending. Of the organization's revenue of $507,035 in 2011, more than $300,000 went to salaries and benefits. Minniti himself received $101,117 in retroactive back pay and a $12,000 bonus in addition to a substantial raise the previous year. Minniti was fired in January amid allegations that he spent MAPS funds on personal engagements.
But the court papers Minniti has filed tell a different story. He claims he was approached by McMaster’s chief human resources officer with the prospect of an updated job description. Minniti claims his raise and back pay were endorsed by the MAPS board of directors, and that the board later notified him they were not in a position to deposit the second half of the back pay.
Citing a series of purported letters between himself, then-president Jeanette Hunter and the board of directors, Minniti maintains he was only fired because he chose the rest of his back pay over his job. Minniti claims he could not forgive the rest of the back pay because he had purchased a home and refrained from exploring other job opportunities.
Despite being criticized for receiving retroactive back pay, Minniti claims he’s still owed $88,116.75 in wages not paid to him under a contract that he says MAPS broke.
Although MAPS and McMaster University are independent organizations, Minniti has named both as corporate defendants.
“McMaster is reviewing its options but is surprised to be included in a statement of claim by someone who was not a University employee,” wrote McMaster spokesperson Gord Arbeau. “Now that the matter is before the courts, we cannot provide further comment.”
MAPS’ legal counsel has not provided any comment.
Since the MAPS spending scandal was brought to light, Minniti has remained largely silent about his position. He has not commented thus far on the lawsuit.
Reports of Minniti’s lawsuit sprung up a day after the McMaster board of governors voted to stop collecting fees temporarily from part-time students. MAPS president Andrew Smith said MAPS is consulting with the University on by-law revisions and anticipates the suspension will be lifted by early fall.
MAPS's budget is funded entirely by student fees. Without other sources of revenue, any legal fees would need to be paid with monies collected from part-time students.
Minniti’s full statement can be found here.
For all of the Silhouette's MAPS coverage since the spending scandal broke, click here.
This article was updated on June 17 at 20:33 ET.
McMaster University will stop collecting MAPS fees from part-time students following a vote by the Board of Governors Thursday morning.
The McMaster Association of Part-Time Students came under public scrutiny earlier this year over its spending practices and lack of fiscal transparency. After firing its executive director, Sam Minniti, MAPS elected a new board in February.
At the June 6 BoG meeting, the University administration recommended that fee-collection for MAPS be suspended, citing that the new board has not yet met the expectations laid out for them at the beginning of their term.
"We don’t believe we can continue to collect the fees when MAPS has not ensured transparency, accountability and clarity on the services it provides in return for student fees," said Provost David Wilkinson, in a release.
As of now, part-time students (registered in less than 18 units) will not be required to pay $7 per unit to MAPS come fall.
The University has held fees collected from MAPS members since last summer and will continue to do so. Some of the fees will go toward sustaining MAPS operations.
On Thursday, McMaster University released its 2013 "sunshine list" [link], which publicly discloses the reported salaries of its employees that made at least $100,000 in 2012.
Top earners included:
Also on the list was former McMaster Association of Part-time Students executive director Sam Minniti with earnings of $124,429.20. MAPS ended its relationship with Minniti and promised to elect an entirely new board in January following an investigation by McMaster University into the Association's spending practices. In addition to Minniti’s reported income of $126,152 2011, he was paid $101,117 that year in "retroactive pay." He was listed because the University processed his income.
A small but varied group turned up at the McMaster Association of Part-time Students annual general meeting on Feb. 5.
Attendees were anxious for answers about a months-long investigation by McMaster into allegations of misspending by the Association, which resulted in the departure of Sam Minniti, MAPS’ executive director, as well as a promise from the board of directors that they wouldn’t run for re-election.
Officials cross-checked student cards with a list of part-time students at the meeting room door. No press, no community members, no MSU employees – no non-members whatsoever – were permitted into the meeting.
But MSU president Siobhan Stewart, who is currently taking a course and is therefore a MAPS member, was allowed in.
“I think, for the most part, what was shared in closed session could have been in open session,” she said.
Matt van Dongen, who had been covering the MAPS saga for the Hamilton Spectator, was also inside the room.
“AGM is for student members only, so far,” said van Dongen from his Twitter account. “But as I have recently become a biz comm CCE student, MAPS officials have allowed me in.”
From inside, van Dongen reported that questions about Minniti drew cautious responses. Minniti was said to have legal representation, which limited what the outgoing board members could say.
Minniti, with whom MAPS had “ended its relationship” in January, was not at the meeting.
About 15 minutes into the event, van Dongen tweeted that part-time students in attendance were “poised to overrule [the] board on keeping [the] meeting private.”
But it wasn’t until almost two hours into the meeting, after outgoing president Jeanette Hunter had given a report and a new board had been elected, that observers were allowed to enter. And for the 20-minute open session portion of the meeting, observers were not allowed to speak.
By the time the AGM became public, there were only 30 people in the room, including representatives of multiple media organizations, observers and outgoing board members.
MAPS bylaws were not made available at the meeting.
The new MAPS board currently has eight members, all of whom were elected by acclamation at the meeting. When and how a new executive director will be hired is up to the new board.
Despite the overhaul, Stewart was encouraged by the new directors.
“I think it’s too soon to know what’s going to happen,” she said. “You have a new board that’s really green. There’s no one that’s returning … [but] the two or three that come up to me at the end and wanted my contact information, I have no question about their intentions.”
The McMaster Association of Part-time Students cleaned house last Friday. Its board of directors announced that MAPS had “ended its relationship” with its beleaguered executive director Sam Minniti and that none of the current board would stand for re-election at the Association’s Feb. 5 annual general meeting.
On Monday, MAPS released its 2011 financial statements, the contents of which had been kept under wraps for months.
The news comes after an investigation of MAPS by McMaster University “in light of significant concerns that were raised regarding MAPS’ business practices,” according to a December statement from the University. The investigation began last spring, after McMaster’s board of governors denied MAPS’ request that its per-student fee be increased from $7 per unit to $10 per unit.
Now, the University is looking for more oversight of the Association. In a statement released last Friday by McMaster’s Provost, David Wilkinson, the University outlined a number of conditions for the continued operation of MAPS, most of which were centred on more transparency and better financial reporting.
Meanwhile, multiple candidates in this year’s McMaster Students Union presidential election have argued that summer students who were full-time students in the fall and winter shouldn’t be paying MAPS fees, given that their MSU membership lasts into the summer. MAPS fees are charged to students who take fewer than 18 units in a two-term academic session.
David Campbell, who is on leave from his post as the MSU’s Vice President (Administration) to run for the presidency, has even included the sentiment in a platform point.
MAPS’ 2011 financial statements showed that the organization had student fee revenue of $507,035, of which $354,023 went to salaries and benefits.
In addition to Minniti’s reported income of $126,152, the financial statements outlined $101,117 in back pay he received that year, which “relates to a retroactive pay adjustment” for a period between November 2005 and November 2010.
In a separate note, the financial statements added that “uncertainty exists as to whether a further sum to a maximum amount of $88,117 may still be owing” to Minniti.
They also describe Minniti’s recent termination. “As a result, severance pay may be owing, however, the amount, if any, is not currently determinable.”
In 2010, MAPS pledged $1 million to the construction of the Wilson Building, a new on-campus liberal arts facility that will be up in place of Wentworth House by 2015. The Association promised to pay that money out over 10 years at $100,000 a year.
MAPS gave only $60,000 to the project in 2010 and gave nothing in 2011.
It also neglected to make good on its 2012 instalment of the pledge, according to Gord Arbeau, McMaster’s Director of Public & Community Relations.
“The project remains on schedule and is moving ahead as planned,” said Arbeau about the Wilson Building’s construction, the bulk of which is funded by a grant from the Ontario government and a donation by McMaster’s chancellor Lynton (Red) Wilson.
“As 2012 progressed, the University’s focus on was gaining an understanding of MAPS’ financial and business practices, and the focus now is on ensuring that MAPS enacts the requirements that we laid out in our statement last week.”
MAPS’ Feb. 5 annual general meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. in Gilmour Hall 111.
When the McMaster Association of Part-time Students was denied a 42.9 per cent fee increase last spring, it must have raised some red flags with the University.
It was the second substantive increase that MAPS had requested in three years. In reporting to the University’s Board of Governors, the Budget Committee expressed its discomfort with approving the increase. For its part, the Finance Committee felt that insufficient evidence was given to support the need for it.
But although MAPS was denied the extra funding, the organization seems far from starving.
Sam Minniti, who has served as executive director of the Association since 2005, made Ontario’s 2012 Public Sector Salary Disclosure list with one-year earnings over $126,000. In 2010, MAPS donated $1 million to the construction of the Wilson Building for Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences, which will break ground on campus next summer.
MAPS recently participated in an audit by the University, The Silhouette has learned. The results have not been released.
MAPS, which is incorporated separately from the University, was established in 1979 to represent students in part-time degree programs and in continuing education. All students taking fewer than 18 units in an academic session paid fees of $13.07 per unit this year, including a $7 MAPS membership fee, a $4.92 Athletics and Recreation fee and a $1.15 administrative services fee.
Also paying MAPS fees were summer students, many of whom would have paid McMaster Students Union dues as a full-time student during the previous fall and winter terms, and therefore retained their MSU membership into the summer. Although those students may apply to transfer their membership from MAPS to the MSU, the MAPS fees are automatically charged.
By comparison, an MSU member taking 30 units this year would have paid $15.48 per unit in membership dues to the Union.
The two organizations, though, have different missions. While both advocate on behalf of students, the Students Union also provides a number of services, health and dental plans, and a bus pass.
Both Minniti and MAPS president Jeanette Hunter declined live interviews with me on multiple occasions over a period of a few weeks. While both agreed to answer questions over email instead, they chose to jointly prepare and submit their responses, despite my request that they each send responses.
Minniti and Hunter said that MAPS activities in recent years have included opposing the elimination of free tuition for seniors two years ago, fighting to keep general three-year degrees and encouraging the University to relax requirements on admissions of mature students so that they could take more courses to accelerate degree completion. The MAPS donation to the Wilson Building was made because many part-time students are enrolled in a liberal arts program, they said.
Ensuring access to university services after hours is another stated priority for MAPS, as is helping students who might have been out of school for a while to navigate course registration and access financial aid.
But at the time of this writing, the MAPS website contained no governing policies, bylaws, financial statements or other organizational documents – only the promise that they would be updated soon.
“The MAPS Board is currently discussing the kinds of documents to be placed on the MAPS website,” Minniti and Hunter told me.
MAPS bylaws, which The Silhouette has obtained and which were last updated in 2008, read that audited financial statements must be presented to MAPS members each February at an Annual General Meeting. Corporation members also are permitted to examine the financial records at any time, given reasonable notice.
Minniti and Hunter explained that statements were presented at an AGM in February of this year, though they declined to share statements with The Silhouette.
I don’t doubt the need for part-time student representation. The culture of our campus is built around our full-time undergrads. And maybe the MSU, even if its operating documents mandated it do so, wouldn’t be able to give part-time or mature students the attention they require.
But it’s time for a little transparency. MAPS need to make bylaws, agreements and financial statements publicly available. They need to make better use of part-time students’ money. And they should try giving the campus media the time of day.
Part-time students are busy, I know. They have jobs, and maybe even families.
But something, I think, is apparent: they need to take the time to demand better from their Part-time Students Association.