In an open letter to the College, Miranda Miao ’21, a write-in candidate for Student Bursar in this year’s College Government (CG) elections, wrote that she had noticed a “number of financial irregularities” that have since been refuted by the Bursar and Controller’s Office. Miao published these allegations in a Medium article titled “SOFC, Where is our money?” on Thursday night, Mar. 5. She alleged that $227,598.13 was left unspent by the Student Organization Funding Committee (SOFC) in 2018-2019, which is $78,265.37 more than the number recorded by the current Bursar, $149,332.76.
Immediately, questions were raised about how Miao obtained her data. Miao says that she accessed the 2018-2019 bookkeeper’s sheets with her laptop on Feb. 28, using log-in information from last year. The next day, on Feb. 29, Miao messaged current Student Bursar Madeline Carter ’20 asking questions about the alleged discrepancies she found using the spreadsheet data. Carter questioned Miao about the numbers’ origins. As a former bookkeeper, who is now no longer employed in the Bursar’s Office, Miao was not allowed to access the data.
Carter subsequently changed the passwords, and shortly after, she received messages from two current bookkeepers that Miao had approached them to gain access to the accounts.
In a later conversation, Carter recalls that Miao said: “I will not publicize the data, of course.”
The unauthorized use of the account constituted “behavior that goes against the spirit of the Honor Code,” according to Lam, who chairs Election Committee (EC). This, the publishing of personal emails without consent of the involved parties and concerns around active campaigning and election integrity — which were reported to EC by three students — resulted in Miao being taken off of the ballot.
There’s no way for us to embezzle because every single thing goes through so many people and every single transaction that we make is audited by the College
At Senate on Monday, Mar. 9, Carter stated that after the allegations were published, she and AVP for Finance and Controller Melissa Fletcher reviewed the unspent funds from 2018-2019 and indeed discovered a discrepancy — but only of $170.
“There was a very small variance between the SOFC spending in FY19 from Workday and what the Bursar carried in the spreadsheet,” said Fletcher, in an email to The Wellesley News. “It is likely caused by something that was processed at the end of the fiscal year and it was not recorded in the SOFC spreadsheet for FY19.”
This is a 0.2 percent variance, far smaller than the amount that Miao alleged in her article. Fletcher and Carter attribute Miao’s inaccurate data to the fact that she accessed and analyzed partial SOFC funds from the bookkeepers’ sheets, which did not include spending and completed transactions made over the summer.
Carol Bate, associate dean of students, reiterated Fletcher and Carter’s point about summer transactions to the Senate attendees Monday night.
“There is a lot of money that’s transferred after bookies close their books and before the College closes their books in June,” Bate explained.
When asked if summer spending could account for the approximate $78,000 discrepancy that Miao alleged, Carter said, “Yes, definitely.”
According to Carter, when the Bursar’s Office closes at the end of the academic term, all transactions — which include vendor and artist payments for Schneider Board of Governors, Senior Week, House Council reading period events and Facilities and Maintenance fees from throughout the year — are handled by Office of Student Involvement (OSI).
“I highly doubt that reading period events and maintenance fees will constitute 78k,” Miao pushed back.
“Even if some of the expenses might not be paid off until summer, they should still appear on the SOFC spreadsheets in real time for them to be processed later,” she said.
But Carter says that this is not the case. “SOFC has no control over [summer] spending … The Student Bursar will approve transactions that go through during the summer, but the Controller’s Office is the office handling that funding,” Carter said.
The Controller’s Office and the Student Bursar keep a record of all of these transactions, from the summer and academic year. In the wake of Miao’s allegations, Fletcher provided Carter a list of all fiscal year 2019 transactions, which she added up and cross-listed with the amount that the Bursar’s Office provided to the Controller’s Office. This resulted in the $170 discrepancy.
“My question has always been, how much money is there in the contingency fund for SOFC, and why do we have no answer on that?” Miao asked in a tense exchange with Dean of Students Sheilah Horton at the Mar. 9 Senate meeting, who, at that moment, was taking questions on the College’s latest COVID-19 updates.
“I think you elect leaders for a reason. You elect them because you trust them, you believe in them to do the right thing, you support them,” Horton responded.
The contingency fund accounts for 30 percent of the Reverted Funds Pool (RFP), the pool into which all unused SOFC funds go at the end of the year. According to SOFC’s constitution, two percent of the RFP covers the Student Ballot Initiative, and the remaining 68 percent is spent on events and goods that serve the Wellesley community. SOFC funds are composed of each student’s Student Activity Fee contribution, which is $324 (2019-2020). The total SOFC budget for 2018-2019 was $778,213.94.
The contingency fund can range between $150,000 and $300,000, said Carter. She explained that the range is that large — an issue that Miao raised in her article — because of reversions that occur throughout the year.
“That fund has been going on for at least ten years and every single year it’s $700,000 being used. The scale is much larger,” Carter said. Money from the fund is used to address emergency deadlines and supplements to independent organizations. In response to issues of transparency regarding the contingency fund’s size, Carter emphasized the lack of consistency due to daily spending.
Over the course of the campaign, Miao has requested to see the contingency fund, claiming that as it comprises money from the Student Activity Fee, the contingency fund should be made publicly available. “We deserve to know how our money is used. There is no writing in the SOFC constitution that states that its data is confidential,” she said.
Carter expanded on why the size of the contingency fund is not shared with the student body in an interview with The News.
“I think generally it’s been historical practice. It’s been used as a safety net for a lot of organizations — we have orgs going into debt all the time — we just don’t want to advertise how much there is so we don’t have orgs asking for things,” Carter said. “So it’s generally so we’re not being bombarded by people just asking for free money.”
On Mar. 2, Miao met with Fletcher to discuss a separate issue when she presented the data pulled from the 2018-2019 bookkeepers’ sheets, which she obtained by accessing the computers in the Bursar’s office without the express knowledge of the Bursar, according to Carter.
Miao wrote in her article: “[Fletcher] told me this was the first time she had seen any sort of data organized and analyzed from SOFC’s spreadsheets” and that she is “unsure of how much money there is in SOFC’s contingency fund, despite repeated requests to SOFC, because the money in the fund is an accumulated amount over multiple years and she has no access to it.”
Fletcher confirms that the Mar. 2 meeting occurred. While she confirms that she had not seen SOFC data organized in the way Miao presented, she also said that Miao’s numbers were not verified by herself at the time of publication.
“I did not at that time validate or reconcile the information in her spreadsheet,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher also disputes Miao’s assertion that Fletcher made repeated requests to SOFC about the contingency fund only to be ignored. For the past several years, Fletcher has been working with Bursars to “fully utilize” Workday for SOFC transactions by reconciling historical spending information for each organization. This reconciliation does not involve yearly spending of SOFC funds. In doing this, Fletcher and Carter have had a number of meetings with each other throughout the year.
According to Miao’s account of the meeting, Fletcher said, “Workday, the current tracking system for financial matters, is not an accurate representation of our money being controlled by SOFC because it does not contain historical data.” Currently, the historical data is spread across Banner and Workday, according to Carter.
To Miao, this constitutes fiduciary negligence. “SOFC cannot accurately represent students organizations’ interest if it doesn’t know how much money it has. It is a blatant violation of the ‘duty of care’ requirement all fiduciaries are legally bound to. By admitting this she is accepting that this breach of trust took place,” she said.
According to the statement sent by CG President Diana Lam ’20 on Friday night, Mar. 6, “The College has confirmed that although Workday does not hold all historical SOFC data, accurate SOFC data for the 2018-2019 academic year was held in Workday.” The email was sent on behalf of CG Cabinet, with the exception of Chief Justice Nimo Suleyman ’20.
Fletcher herself also said, “I am confident that the annual expenditures processed in Workday on behalf of SOFC align with the Bursar’s information. I have no reason to believe the historical information is inaccurate.”
In a statement to The News, Fletcher addressed the ongoing confusion surrounding SOFC, its oversight and allegations of mismanagement.
“First, SOFC funds have not been mismanaged. SOFC funds are managed by the Bursar and College Government, and are paid by the College through the Workday system. Expenses are subject to the same requirements, policies and procedures as other expenditures made by the College, which includes appropriate documentation of the purpose of the expenditure, appropriate authorization for the expenditure (student org treasurer, bookie, bursar), and review by a member of my staff in the Controller’s Office prior to payment. The staff in the Controllers’ Office who process accounts payable and sign off on payments are highly experienced and knowledgeable, and if there is a concern about a particular expenditure it is discussed and resolved.
Second, each year over the past several years there have been improvements in the processes for SOFC management of resources. This includes changing the process for student orgs to request and receive funds, using Workday to streamline processes, and tracking and managing the use of funds. This does not mean that processes are perfect; for example, we piloted the use of declining debit cards as a way to minimize the need for students to front money, but the pilot was unsuccessful. We will continue to work with college government to improve processes.
Finally, the reconciliation that I referred to which has not yet been completed has to do with historical balances, not the yearly spending of SOFC funds. On an annual basis, the expenditures processed in Workday on behalf of SOFC align with the information the bursar has, and that accurate information was provided to the candidates running for student bursar. The detailed reconciliation that we are now working on goes back several years. Our goal has been and continues to be to have SOFC organizations able to use Workday for all record keeping beginning this summer.”
The allegations sparked a wave of reactions across campus and social media mostly in support of Miao, including murmurs of corruption, embezzlement and fraud.
But Carter says that is just not possible. “There’s no way for us to embezzle because every single thing goes through so many people and every single transaction that we make is audited by the College.”
Note: The original title of the piece was “Student Bursar candidate falsely accuses College Government of financial mismanagement.” The Wellesley News changed the title given that our reporters were unable to look at the numbers and independently verify that the accusations are false. Additionally, the article now includes quotes from Miao to fairly represent her point of view.