UC Finance Audit Finds No Irregularities, Warns Board Members Accused | News

UC Finance Audit Finds No Irregularities, Warns Board Members Accused |  News

An audit of the Undergraduate Council’s finances has “not yet found evidence of financial irregularities,” according to the report released Thursday in an email from Undergraduate Council Chairman Michael Y. Cheng ’22 and Vice -President Emmett E. of Kanter ’24.

The audit, which began in January and was conducted by Harvard Audit and Risk Management Services, cleared up allegations of financial mismanagement that have plagued the Council since a particularly contentious presidential election last November. He also made recommendations on procedural changes for the organization.

The council voted unanimously to “cooperate fully” with the investigation last December. The audit was due to end at the end of February but was repeatedly extended “in part due to refusals to answer questions,” Cheng wrote in his email.

The Office of the Dean of Students, which distributes funds to UC, had withheld more than $125,000 from the body in response to the audit.

Throughout his Thursday email, Cheng repeatedly claimed that the audit revealed “extensive financial mismanagement within UC” and that some more serious findings were withheld from the report due to optical concerns.

“Some of the findings of the investigation will not be made public because they could significantly damage Harvard’s reputation, given that UC nominally represents Harvard students to the public,” Cheng wrote in the email. .

The assistant dean of student engagement and leadership, Kate Colleran, who previously served as a mediator for UC, had a different assessment of the report.

In an email to The Crimson, Colleran claimed the report represented the full scope of the investigation.

“I was thrilled that UC recognized the need to hold itself accountable for its handling of student money by requesting an audit,” Colleran wrote. “I have confirmed with the audit services that all their findings are included in the report and that no financial irregularities were found.”

Cheng later clarified his statements in an interview.

“I think that not having found evidence yet doesn’t mean UC is completely obliterated,” Cheng said. “Looking strictly at legal terms, yes, there are no legal financial irregularities, but there is definite financial mismanagement.”

The report draws conclusions on the merits of six of the 12 financial allegations against the organization.

In one discovery, investigators determined that a student organization received $2,190 in grant funding for an Open Harvard College in November 2020 to purchase Patagonia jerseys. The report says the garments “do not meet” the grant criteria.

Grant money is to be directed to “socially inclusive and financially accessible” initiatives, including racial, cultural, mental health and harassment prevention causes, according to the UC website.

The report also stated that a UC retreat in Sunapee, NH in the fall of 2021 exceeded its allotted budget of $3,000 by nearly $4,000. No official budget for the trip was available, the report also notes.

The report assessed the legitimacy of several claims made during last November’s UC officer elections, including allegations made against former Adams House Rep. Esther J. Xiang ’23, who was charged with having lost or even stolen at least $20,000 in Covid-19 aid. Council funding.

“We found no evidence that any funds were disbursed, misused, or otherwise inappropriately spent by presidential candidate Esther Xiang,” the report said.

Xiang and his running mate, David Y. Zhang ’23, were runners-up in the election among six candidates.

In a written statement to The Crimson Thursday, Xiang highlighted the distress the episode caused him and pleaded for compassion and kindness from his peers.

“These were serious charges, and their insidious intent and destructive power cannot be underestimated. They have affected my relationships, caused people to question my character, and had a profound impact on my health. and my well-being,” Xiang wrote. “I hope this audit sheds some light on not only my situation, but how UC, its campaigns, and all members of the Harvard community should hold themselves more accountable for their actions.”

Cheng addressed the findings in his email.

“No one deserves to have their reputation destroyed by false and misleading claims,” ​​he wrote.

The report also cleared the Board of tax code violations that were attacked by Ivor K. Zimmerman ’24 when he ran for UC President in the same election.

Zimmerman and her running mate, Joy Y. Lin ’23, campaigned largely on the premise that UC had violated its own constitution by failing to file for nonprofit status since 2008, and that the organization was therefore non-existent.

Then-president Noah A. Harris ’22 defended the board against the charge, saying the board was automatically granted nonprofit status because of its status as a Harvard student organization. . The UC later voted to remove this constitutional requirement.

The report echoed Harris’ explanation.

“UC is not required to file tax returns since it is sponsored by the DSO and enjoys the University’s tax-exempt status,” it read.

Zimmerman reacted to the findings with relief and a bit of humor.

“I don’t want to say I’m disappointed because it’s a good thing, but obviously womp womp, ran a campaign saying it wasn’t real,” he said.

The report said that in two of the 12 allegations investigated, auditors were unable to draw conclusions “based on the unavailability of financial records or inconclusive data”. These allegations included “failure to collect and review $100,000 in grant receipts and request the return of unspent funds in 2017 and 2018” and the use of UC debit cards for meals and snacks.

Four other allegations remain outstanding, including favoritism towards large student organizations, conflicts of interest in winter semester grants, political contributions made by the Council, and “the misuse of grant funds by a student organization focused on cultural and racial initiatives.

The report also presented a series of procedural recommendations to improve UC’s financial management practices, including regular review of UC’s debit card activity, more in-depth financial training for officers and the documentation of conflict of interest procedures.

UC Treasurer Kimani E. Panthier ’24 expressed satisfaction with the results of the audit and underscored his commitment to improving UC’s financial management infrastructure.

“My reaction to the audit is that the audit confirms what I knew all along, that there were no financial irregularities,” Panthier said. “I believe these results demonstrate that we can further strengthen UC’s fiscal responsibility with the help of independent audit professionals.”

The report said investigators are “working with UC officers to resolve” the outstanding allegations and expect to “reach a conclusion in the coming days.”

—Editor J. Sellers Hill can be reached at [email protected]