Getting to the bottom of a rumor of an HSU club embezzling money
Student clubs aren’t guilty of embezzling money, but they have misused funds.
A rumor from a recent Humboldt State University clubs meeting said that a student club embezzled money. According to Tay Triggs, the director of the Office of Student Life, that rumor was false.
Triggs said the embezzlement mentioned in the meeting was an illustrative example from another college of how clubs might mishandle money. However, Triggs did acknowledge that some HSU clubs fail to follow proper financial procedures.
Triggs said she has seen students use club funds to pay for necessities, including textbooks, but that she wouldn’t label that as embezzlement. For Triggs, embezzlement is applicable only to long-term, premeditated theft.
“Some clubs can accidentally misuse funds if they didn’t get permission to do something,” Triggs said. “There’s all kind of cash handling rules. If they don’t follow them, that can technically be a misuse of funds.”
Triggs said she tends to take a forgiving stance when a student club is found to have mishandled money.
“When it comes to clubs, I’m more educational than punitive,” Triggs said. “I would rather meet with them and make sure they knew what the policy was—if they didn’t, then I’m going to give them a warning.”
Our students are learning all of this. Managing budgets as if they’re tiny nonprofits—which all of them are—is not easy and so we definitely recognize that, especially understanding that the state is a very bureaucratic system.Molly Kresl, HSU Clubs and Activities Coordinator
HSU student clubs have seen changes in their financial management in recent years in an effort to comply with the Integrated CSU Administrative Manual for student clubs defined by CSU Executive Order 1068, passed late 2011.
HSU Clubs and Activities Coordinator Molly Kresl said all student club advisors, presidents and treasurers undergo financial management training before handling money. Nevertheless, Kresl said policy violations do happen.
“Mismanagement does occur,” Kresl said. “And sometimes it’s unintentional and sometimes there is mal-intent there. And more often than not that mal-intent is coming from a place of need from an individual, but whatever it is, we have these policies and procedures in place to protect that money, to protect our organizations and to protect our students.”
Kresl said Clubs and Activities promotes proper financial management procedures like the taking of inventory, the use of receipt books and the use of dual-custody, which Kresl elaborated on.
“Dual-custody is important because it ensures accountability that one person’s watching another,” Kresl said. “You’re less likely to mishandle money if there’s someone else there. Also to ensure the safety of the students, so an individual student who’s maybe handling like $100 or $200 dollars, doesn’t get targeted and then potentially attacked—not that I would expect that to happen in our community.”
Kresl said club funds are stored in HSU accounts, so transactions are monitored. A club’s advisor and president, or treasurer, must sign for any withdrawals from the accounts. Clubs and Activities tries to aid student clubs as much as possible to avoid financial mismanagement.
“Our students are learning all of this,” Kresl said. “Managing budgets as if they’re tiny nonprofits—which all of them are—is not easy and so we definitely recognize that, especially understanding that the state is a very bureaucratic system.”
Ryen Cosgro, recreation administration senior and president of the recreation club, said he underwent almost nine hours of training to become a club president. Cosgro agreed that learning to manage a club was difficult.
“There’s kind of a steep learning curve, and that’s something that I could tell the clubs office was trying to provide us resources to avoid,” Cosgro said.
Despite the time and effort Cosgro had to put in, he said he was grateful for the training he received.
“A lot of the educating, I was like, ‘Man, I have to go to a lot of meetings and orientations,’ but coming out of it, okay, I learned a lot,” Cosgro said. “That was very helpful.”
Cosgro had doubts about how anyone at HSU could pull off embezzlement, as he said any large expenses require prior approval.
“From my point of view, it seems really hard to do that,” Cosgro said. “I don’t really see how you can do that unless you’re making false receipts or something.”
In the event that mishandling does occur, Triggs will typically meet with students, gather information and divide up the responsibility of the mishandling based on what she finds.
If an entire club has benefited from mismanagement, Triggs would likely implement conduct policies upon the whole club.
Otherwise, Associated Dean of Students Roger Wang would oversee conduct procedures for individual students.
Depending on the severity of the mishandling, Triggs said she could put the club on probation or revoke its status as a club. Triggs also said she tries to keep an eye on any mishandling to prevent it from impacting all of Clubs and Activities.
“I’d rather confront and deal with one club to eliminate it happening again than to take the chance of it happening more and more and more and then we get into some kind of trouble,” Triggs said. “I’ve never had an audit finding and I don’t plan on it happening any time soon, because I know they’re not fun to rectify.”
Even for clubs caught mishandling money, both Triggs and Kresl emphasized that they ultimately aim to support and educate students.
“Our goal is ultimately to keep students here whenever we can and to support our students as best as we can,” Kresl said. “The whole reason we exist is as a learning institution and our goal is to help our students learn.”