The U Of R Used A $1.3 Million Endowment To Cover Overspending

If I was an engineering student at the U of R, I’d be pissed. Today, the CBC published a piece detailing “Project Discovery” – the heinous Newspeak name for a review of overspending in the university’s Faculty of Engineering. Turns out research accounts managed by the dean were overspent by over a million bucks, and the university wound up using money specifically donated to fund a research chair to paper over administrative misspending.

“Who’s accountable for this?” [U of R Faculty Association chair Gary] Tompkins asked, noting it was a highly unusual move for a university. “And how could it go on for that many years? That’s the disturbing thing about it.”

The obvious answers are “Whoever read this report” and “Because nobody in the unversity’s administration has to really answer to anybody,” respectively.

Like I said, engineering students oughta be annoyed about this. They pay the third-highest tuition out of all students at the university, and a disproportionate number of international students are working towards engineering degrees at several times the cost of what a Canadian resident pays. On average, a couple hundred thousand dollars of that money per annum wound up being spent on “legal fees ‘for patent and intellectual property work.'”

The faculty has strong ties to the Canadian resource industry, and touts its innovation and competitive program; it’s a shame that all of that has come at the cost of a research chair position.

ADDENDUM: How hard has the U of R’s outgoing VP of external relations, Barb Pollock, checked out of her position? Look at her barely even try to respond to the CBC:

CBC News asked a spokeswoman for the university to describe the nature of the overspending.

“Oh I don’t know. I don’t know. That was three years ago,” [Pollock] said. “I didn’t look into that. It would be research related.”

I was wondering why Pollock – who’s worked at the university for more than a decade and has overall been pretty good at the external relations gig – had tendered her resignation so suddenly. My guess now is that she saw the writing on the wall – over the next several months, with students, faculty, and the provincial media all tightening their scrutiny of the university’s spending, whoever has to deal with the press is in a deeply unenviable position.

Author: John Cameron

John Cameron is a freelance journalist and occasional writer from Regina, Saskatchewan. He was the editor-in-chief of the Carillon, the University of Regina student newspaper, from 2010 to 2012. You can find more of his work in the Trash folder of several prominent national magazine editors' inboxes.

6 thoughts on “The U Of R Used A $1.3 Million Endowment To Cover Overspending”

  1. The same players in the IPAC-CO2 and GEN Five investigations are involved with this latest scandal: Ian Bailey (industry liaisons) & Paitoon Tontiwachwuthikul (dean of engineering and applied sciences). Both have refused to comment, although Ian Bailey did tell internal investigators at the U of R “this University sucks” and “doesn’t know how to do business” [cited from a CBC story a few months back]. So the question is, will the University come clean and open its books or will it continue to play down several millions in wasted funds?

  2. Also: When University Council convened in March one of the faculty proposals was to open the books on budgets and spending. If passed this proposal would have enhanced transparency and make it much harder to hide this kind of misuse of funds. It does not reflect well on the administration that calls for greater transparency on the part of faculty and students have been steadfastly rejected in light of the financial abuses going on thanks to this veil of secrecy.

  3. “Over the past two days, CBC Regina has released stories on petroleum research activities in the University of Regina’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. I want to address this coverage.

    Approximately 15 years ago, in December 1997, the University received an industry contribution of $1 million from Wascana Energy Inc. That contribution was made to support petroleum engineering. Specifically, it was to be used to help set up a research chair, a centre for petroleum research, lab space and infrastructure.

    The University of Regina subsequently invested into research in petroleum engineering. Our petroleum engineering program has since grown to be a vital area of academic activity in our Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. Several hundred students are studying and researching in the area at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

    During the period from 2006-2011, research spending in the faculty exceeded research revenue. This practice was stopped last year. After reviewing the situation carefully, the University deemed that the Wascana Energy monies accepted 15 years ago could be appropriately allocated to the petroleum research-related expenses in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science – expenses which included legal fees for the management and protection of intellectual property belonging to the University.

    This allocation of funds was in accord with the agreement with Wascana Energy, whose terms earmark the funds “for petroleum engineering.” Furthermore, this allocation is fully in accord with University practice in the administration of such funds.

    The University of Regina is committed to enhance teaching, research and service to community. As a university, research is critical to our future – something that Wascana Energy recognized 15 years ago. The University of Regina has used the Wascana Energy funds responsibly to support key research in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, and the confidence Wascana Energy placed in the University to enhance petroleum engineering research was – and remains – warranted.

    Respectfully,

    Vianne Timmons
    President and Vice-Chancellor”

  4. Anonymous: Paying off 1.3 million in over-spending at a University that has a no overspending policy is an appropriate use? If it was an appropriate use why not put these funds into a research budget in the first place and thereby make cost over-runs unnecessary. By all reports the overspending has been going on for several years, ample time to include endowment funds in the Engineering and Applied Science legal budget. Doing so would certainly have helped to dispel any suspicions that the overspending was inappropriate.The way it appears to me is that that the university lawyers were hard at work looking for loopholes in all bequeathments that would permit draining any endowment funds for this overspending.It also seems to me the endowment was drained in order to cover up misuse of funds via “over-spending”. The fact that questions have also been raised regarding conflict of interest in this department further fuels those suspicions. Yet the official word from the University administration is to deny any wrong-doing, denials that ring hollow from the same administration that permitted the overspending in the first place.

    “Anonymous” it’s time to be honest: how high does this go?

  5. From a June 30th 2008 leader post interview with Ian Bailey, director of the University-Industry Liaison office: :

    “The University-Industry Liaison Office was opened in 2002. It’s a partnership between the university and the city — which invested $1 million to be spent over five years — to promote collaborations and partnering opportunities in the area of research and development of intellectual property.

    The university was spending its investment money primarily to protect intellectual property and pay for patents, Bailey said, explaining he was hired to bring some business acumen to the job to capitalize on those investments.

    “In the first six years we spent a total of about $25,000 on protecting patents. I am now up to $250,000 a year on the commercialization of those investments and trying to figure out where to get more money,” Bailey said.”

  6. Yeah.. maybe they should also look into the conflicts of interest in that faculty such as the professor in petroleum who teaches his sons.. *cough* SHIRIF

Comments are closed.