Langara Students’ Union pays for 50 per cent more staff than SFU’s union

LSU's six staffers also get paid much more than SFU's team of four

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By YASHVIKA GROVER

Langara Students’ Union staff members make on average $112,292, significantly more than SFU union employees — despite servicing less than half the number of students.

The SFU Student Society has four staffers managing its 37,000 members.

Meanwhile, the LSU pays six staff members to oversee its much smaller 15,917 membership.

Additionally, SFU’s union staffers make an annual average of just $95,576. 

According to Spencer Dane, one of Langara College’s top business management instructors, the justifications for the LSU’s large salaries are “opaque.”

“What were those people doing for the remuneration?” said Dane, who is also the college’s creative arts division chair. “How did it get approved? It seems fairly opaque, you know, through, behind closed doors.”

According to its latest financial statement, the LSU paid out $673,753 to six full-time staff members. 

Like all non-profits, the LSU falls under the Societies Act, which does not limit staff pay but requires societies to disclose the total remuneration paid to all staff making over $75,000. 

Potentially, this could mean that five LSU staffers make $75,000 while executive director Gurbax Leelh makes almost $300,000, Dane said.

“It’s really hard to know what’s going on because they’re not telling you,” he said. “They’re not revealing enough to say, ‘Oh, the executive director makes half of it.’”

Transparency needed due to limited oversight

Sheldon Falk, a lawyer at the Macushla Law Corporation who specializes in non-profits, said student unions are able to set their own wages and stipends. 

However, they are expected to do it in a transparent manner. 

Falk said if this isn’t done, the student body needs to take action by holding the council accountable. 

“The recourse would be to go back to the bylaws and say, ‘Well, I think we need to bake into these bylaws a little bit more accountability,’” he said.

While the average LSU staff salary is more than $112,000, top-tier instructors at Langara are paid $104,708.

Stanley Tromp, an FOI journalist and a Langara journalism graduate of 1993, described the amount paid to LSU staffers and the lack of transparency around their salaries as “shocking” and “dreadful.” 

“I think there should be a full public consultation process about the future of student unions and how they should operate,” Tromp said.

Elected student board pay shows irregularities

In addition to LSU staff salaries, student union fees also pay stipends for elected board members. Each fall, the student body elects a board meant to oversee LSU operations. Six full-time staff members operate the day-to-day affairs. Elected representatives get stipends, often paid in a single lump sum.

After reviewing the latest financial statements, Dane also questioned “very large stipends” paid to LSU elected board members that vary with no explanation, which he called “irregular.”

 Dane said the stipends of some student board members looked more like salaries, with amounts ranging from $7,546 for the international students rep to a whopping $21,384 for the VP internal. 

He said the lack of transparency around the high stipends and the actual work done by the board members gave him pause. 

“Why were there specific people who were paid more, like, it looked more like a salary?” Dane said. “It’s very odd to me that for … what I think is a not-for-profit organization is paying people on the board, when we don’t know what they’re actually doing.” 

The LSU financial statement showed that the 2023 stipend for the VP internal also rose sharply to $21,884, from $8,200 the year prior. Meanwhile, the VP of finance and administration made $21,304 — almost 10 times more than the stipend from 2022.  

In an email to the Voice, the LSU said, “The executive of the board and the reps of the board have different roles and have a different workload that changes every year.”  

 The LSU also said that the amount paid to the board members “was decided by the previous councils.”

 Former council member Kunwar Vikrant Devgan, who was the LSU VP of finance and administration in 2019, told the Voice in an earlier interview that he never saw any financial figures and the staff made all the decisions.  

“I will tell you that I did not sign any of the financial decisions taken during my period, not even a single decision,” said Devgan. “All decisions were made by the full-time staff.” 

Devgan said he was made to sign an NDA or non-disclosure agreement, which surprised him.

“I was expecting transparency because it’s called the students’ union,” Devgan said. “If students cannot know what happens . . . then what the hell are you doing here?” 

Devgan said he was disillusioned once he joined the council, quickly realizing his role was not going to be what he expected.  

“After you start the role, they basically explain to you that . . . it’s completely different.” 

In addition to the elected students, the board also includes two senior managers, who under the B.C. Societies Act, can be a student or an LSU staff member. According to the act, if the senior board members are on the staff, the stipends are included as an addition to their regular salary. 

The audited 2022-2023 financial statement and report obtained by the Voice showed that the two senior managers received stipends of $54,216 and $30,238. 

The Voice asked the LSU to provide the names of the senior managers last November. The LSU responded that they were “Sukh Kaur and Keshav,” but did not include Keshav’s last name nor provide it when the Voice followed up.  

The LSU said the senior managers share in all tasks but do not have the authority to exercise powers.  

“They are contracted by the board and manage the various roles,” the LSU said in an email.  

Adding to the disparity, Langara students have long complained about the low number of LSU services and events, particularly with the lower number of students at Langara.

Lack of accountability erodes student trust

Student unions typically provide a wide range of services for their members, in addition to administering their U-Pass as well as health and dental care.

SFU’s student society, for example, regularly offers food vouchers, free breakfasts, monthly pet therapy, and hosts seasonal events such as Holi, Munchie Mondays. 

Douglas College has a roughly similar student population to Langara’s and hosts weekly events. The New Westminster-based college spent $257,260 on campus life, services and events for its last listed year of 2022. Meanwhile, the LSU spent $104,677 on campus life and events from May 1, 2022, to April 30, 2023, according to its 2023 financial statement. 

Nancy Brar, VP external and community affairs of the SFU student society, said transparency is crucial for its membership. 

“If you’re not transparent with your students, you kind of lose their trust,” she said. 

As independent organizations that fall under the Societies Act, student unions have no oversight whatsoever and can only be held accountable through legal action. Neither Langara College nor its board of directors have any say in the LSU’s operations or finances. 

The Langara board of governors does not have direct oversight of the LSU, which is an independent organization, board chair Mary Lynn Baum told the Voice in an email.  

However, she said “The board can request college management to investigate an issue it’s made aware of,” Baum said.

With files from Roy Fang, Jamie Mah. 

 



1 Comment
  1. Adrian Livesley says

    Wow! Another great Voice story. I hope a FULL review happens because things are not right with the LSU

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