Hi Everyone, for those of you that don’t know me, my name is Declan Hodgins, and I am the Secretary Treasurer of the USC. Following executive restructuring, my position will be renamed to the VP Governance and Finance next year, but responsible for the same functions as my current role. Through my position I oversee the finance, governance, clubs, and undergraduate health and dental plans at the USC.
It’s been a big year in this portfolio. When I started my term, job number one was the Student Choice Initiative, a government directive making many ancillary fees opt-outable. Make no mistake: this was the greatest threat the USC has faced in its history. We are a 30 million dollar organization that had our previously stable and predictable revenue stream become volatile in an instant. Financially, we faced unprecedented risk and uncertainty in the past year.
I am proud to say, however, that we pulled through: we provided a transparent and digestible fee bill for students, demonstrated our value to the campus community, and found ways to trim our expenses while protecting what matters most. Thanks to intentional efforts of USC staff and the previous and current executive team, supported by true allies in Western’s administration, the USC emerged from Student Choice in a stable financial position. A court has since found the government directive unlawful, and my portfolio is now looking ahead to our annual budgeting process, preparing for a range of potential scenarios for the next fiscal year.
The budget is our organization’s most crucial strategic document. While any organization can set goals and priorities where you invest your time and money truly exposes what you value. To this end, our team has decided to set investing in student voices and institutional sustainability as our key area of focus for the 2020-2021 annual budget.
The USC is built on acting as the voice of students. Our budget will put our money where our mouth is and empower our advocacy and communications, both at the stakeholder and the grassroots levels. In the wake of the Student Choice Initiative, we also realize that institutional sustainability is critical, so our budget will make investments to ensure that the USC can continue to deliver excellence in a sustainable manner, regardless of what the future holds.
With fee opt-outs over for now, we are in a position where we can look into the future and make strategic investments. But make no mistake: we are not going back to status quo. Going forward, we know that way more than we ever have in the past, we need to focus on being relevant and getting good value for the student’s money.
Another key file that I have spent a lot of time on is space. One of the things that we have identified is that the USC needs more space. Our current lease does not have enough square footage for us to properly accomplish our mandate. We want to do things like build new facilities for peer programs and events, but we are facing a serious capacity restriction. Moving forward, we will continue to work with our partners at the university to find ways to expand the UCC lease and increase our ability to accomplish our mandate.
Financial Programming has been another focal initiative of my portfolio this year. We recognize that as an organization focusing on student development and student wellness, the USC has not historically done enough to promote financial literacy for the student body. Partnering with Western, BMO, and Pennydrops, we offered a series of extremely successful personal finance workshops last term, and I anticipate that financial literacy programming will be a big growth area for the USC. Additionally, we are roughly doubling the capacity of our income tax clinic, and focusing on increasing the quality of our service delivery for all student groups. Our grants and student refugee program have also been very successful, distributing over $30K in grant funding to student initiatives and student refugees.
Campus trust is our health and dental insurance provider and I sit on its board as a trustee. I have spent a lot of my time this year on campus trust trying to address several systemic issues that we have identified with its governance. I have experienced continual challenges with it, and we are currently exploring all options to ensure that our students receive the highest possible quality health and dental insurance.
The biggest change to the portfolio this year was the movement of the clubs system under the Secretary-Treasurer portfolio. Many people in the USC dont recognize just how substantial our clubs system is. Clubs are the USC’s largest student program. Over 18,000 club members make up over 200 USC clubs – the single largest student activity on campus . Our clubs system does many things that the USC could not do on our own: representing different perspectives on the political spectrum, creating a community for cultural and religious groups, spreading awareness, giving students a place to learn and enjoy their hobbies, supporting academics and entrepreneurship, and advocating on behalf of students. One of the big changes that we made this year is that Grad students are now eligible to join usc clubs. My role in the clubs system is principally administrative, governance, and financial, in addition to offering training support to club executives. However, it makes me immensely proud to see the incredible work that our clubs do. Every year there are countless examples of excellence in our clubs system to point to. Tonight, it is worth giving a shout out to the Muslim Students’ Association which was recently honoured with a Diversity, Race Relations, and Inclusivity Award from the City of London. We should also recognize the powerful activism from some of our cultural clubs in response to incidents of racism on our campus.
Lastly, I want to share some of changes my portfolio has made in governance. In reality, most of the changes we make are relatively granular, so I’m not going to go into detail in a speech of this calibre. However, I will note that so far we have accomplished an ambitious legislative agenda, presenting dozens of policy and bylaw amendments at our council and board meetings this year. Our organizational governance has continued to evolve in a positive direction, with better oversight, more transparency, and more clarity.
There are two changes that I must highlight. First of all, we restructured our executive branch, adding a sixth executive going into next year. I won’t elaborate further as others have already.
The other primary governance shift was significant amendments to our elections bylaw. We know that there was dissatisfaction with how the violations procedure functioned in previous elections, that it penalized honest mistakes and sometimes let people get away with intentionally violating the rules. That’s why we committed to not just changing the rules, but doing it right. Moving forward, including in this year’s election, honest mistakes and minor violations will be treated as a learning opportunity, whereas violations that undermine the integrity of the elections system will result in disqualification. These are changes that we should all be proud of as they help to increase transparency, clarity, and fairness of our elections.
Before I finish this up, I want to make a special recognition. All of the great work in my portfolio that I’ve just shared is beyond only my work. While I oversee this portfolio, our USC staff and student leaders play a key role in getting the work done. I want to give a special shout out to my Associates: Jack in Governance, Noa in Clubs, and Ryan in Finance and my Coordinators, Shafeeq, Jack, Neha, Ayma, and Nareesa. Thank you for keeping the portfolio running.