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Kellogg College Ball President Reimbursement 2020: No Fraudulent Conduct Found

But control weaknesses in the MCR procedures were identified by Kellogg College.

by A.K.

In September 2021, Kellogg College finalised an inquiry from June 2020 into the payment of £733 to the Ball President of Kellogg’s cancelled 2020 Commemoration Ball without releasing a public statement. By way of an internal statement, Kellogg MCR Committee members were informed that:

No fraudulent conduct was found, but control weaknesses in the MCR procedures were identified. Governing Body Fellows are working with current members of the MCR Committee to ensure that the MCR constitution, and MCR and college working practices and oversight are fit for purpose in the future. The Finance Bursar and the Chair of the Kellogg College Finance and Resources Committee have reported their findings to the Governing Body and this matter is now closed.
Kellogg College’s Statement from September 3rd 2021

The Oxford Whisperer only learned of the official statement after sending two Freedom of Information requests, which took a combined eight months to return, see here and here—not to mention dealing with aggressive letters from Taylor Hampton Solicitors on behalf of some of the students involved.

The replies to the requests include relevant meeting minutes and a redacted version of a report by Kellogg College’s Finance Bursar, Gary Walker.

As to the question of why it might have taken so long to bring the matter to a conclusion, an attached note for Kellogg College’s Finance and Resource Committee explains:

There was protracted dialogue thereafter as the matter ran in parallel to a number of other related and contentious student matters involving the College Dean and the Vice President. Note from September 29th 2021

The statement released on September 3rd, 2021, was only shared with the MCR Committee and with “the author and co-signatories of a related letter received by the College in June 2020” more than a year after Kellogg College started looking into the matter.

The Oxford Whisperer can confirm that not all signatories were contacted at the time.

Whether taking more than a year to conclude such a matter and only by the way of releasing an internal statement has done the involved students and the Kellogg MCR a favour is an open question.

What does the finance bursar’s report say?

The report by Kellogg College’s Finance Bursar, Gary Walker, explains that “in 2019/20 the College ceased not charging [for college meals], but accepted that the MCR might choose to cover the cost for a role-holder to enable them to fulfil their role on site more practicably.”

The report further notes that at the time “all requests for expenditure in excess of £250 must be specially authorized by a two-thirds vote of the [MCR] Committee, as must all requests for expenditure made by the MCR President,” and that “the single financial threshold of £250 stipulated in the MCR Constitution [for MCR expenses] is a purposeful control intended to balance the practicality of making payments alongside managing the risks of potentially inappropriate payments.”

As reported earlier, there was no such vote by the MCR Committee for the Ball President’s meals of £733 in 2020 after the college changed policy.

On the other hand, then-Ball President SU stated in a message to another then-MCR representative, which is available to The Oxford Whisperer, that the expense was “executed as part of his dispensation of residence” and agreed to by the Finance Bursar Gary Walker.

The transaction in the MCR finance spreadsheet recorded then-Ball Treasurer (and then-MCR President) DF as the responsible officer. In an email thread directing the former MCR Treasurer IS to wire the money to the Ball President, DF stated that she and the MCR Treasurer had previously agreed to the payment as part of the MCR budget.

Gary Walker’s report points out that “the MCR Standing Orders in respect of the Treasurer role […] do not emphasize the control or ‘gatekeeper’ aspects of the role. Financial reporting expectations […] do not mention reporting regularly to the MCR Committee and do not specifically include mention of the Ball.”

This may explain the general recommendation that “the College Governance Working Group and the MCR review the MCR Constitution and Standing Orders” and “the College Finance Office work more closely with the MCR Treasurer to establish an appropriate level of detail and structure for MCR financial reporting.”

Questions remain

It is not clear precisely what control weaknesses in the MCR procedures were identified by the College, or what changes were recommended.

Most of the report is redacted, including the conclusion and the exact recommendations regarding the MCR constitution and standing orders.

The redacted report was released when The Oxford Whisperer asked the University of Oxford for an internal review of one of Kellogg College’s FOI replies, and the response stated that it withheld information different from already published information.

This raises the question: was the conclusion in the report by the Finance Bursar, which was presented to the Finance and Resources Committee in September 2020 and fully redacted, different from the official one published by Kellogg College in September 2021, and in what way?

In the absence of full transparency, this is destined to remain a source of speculation.

The summarised meeting minutes show that after September 2020 the matter continued to be regularly dealt with as reserved business in the meetings of Kellogg College’s Governing Body and its Finance and Resources Committee until June 2021.

Either way, according to Kellogg College’s official statement, no fraudulent conduct was found, but weaknesses in the MCR procedures were identified.

Asked for a comment on these questions, Kellogg College’s Communication Officer Naomi Maxwell-Wood only added:

The review advocated revisions to the MCR constitution, and that the College Finance Office work more closely with the MCR Treasurer regarding financial reporting. The revised MCR constitution is available [here], and the College Finance Office are [sic] working closely with the MCR Treasurer. Kellogg College’s Communication Officer Naomi Maxwell-Wood

Kellogg MCR’s new constitution

The new Kellogg MCR constitution from Michaelmas 2021 now explicitly declares that:

There shall be no remuneration for the roles on the MCR Committee, which are voluntary. Expenses can be refunded for reasonable costs incurred during MCR work, as agreed with the [MCR] Treasurer in advance of expenditure. §11.4 in the new MCR constitution

The financial threshold and the explicit voting mechanism on expenses by the full MCR committee have been abolished.

SU was reappointed as Ball President by the current Kellogg MCR Committee for Kellogg College’s 2022 Commemoration Ball end of January 2022.

SU (the former and new Ball President and MCR President of 2020/21) and DF (the former Ball Treasurer and MCR President of 2019/20) were given multiple opportunities to comment on these matters, or to provide an unredacted copy of the report, but declined to do so. IS, the MCR Treasurer of 2019/20, did not respond to a request for comment.