Legal inaction against law dean accused of misspending funds angering

Letter to Michael Benarroch from U of M student

Dear Michael Benarroch,

It is with immense anger and discontent that I learn that the university administration has chosen to not pursue legal action against Jonathan Black-Branch, as reported by the CBC on Dec. 10, 2023.

For readers unfamiliar with the case, Black-Branch is accused of misspending nearly $500,000 of university funds while serving as dean of the faculty of law  at the University of Manitoba between 2016 and 2020.

These misappropriated funds, in large part, stemmed from a U of M endowment fund designated for student development, as reported by the CBC. The funds were allegedly inappropriately directed toward Black-Branch’s own benefit — consisting of courses from Harvard and Yale and extensive meal expenses under the appearance of university business. Despite a salary in excess of $300,000 at the time of these misappropriations (according to the University of Manitoba’s Schedule of Public Sector Compensation 2019 Report), Black-Branch still used the endowment fund for his personal benefit.

Had these funds been appropriately used, university students — the leaders of tomorrow — would have further learned and developed valuable skills. Rather, the selfishness and corruption of an individual stole opportunities from university students whose lives and communities may have been forever changed.

Undeniably, the credibility and reputation of the University of Manitoba has been gravely hurt in this case. I will never forget this story of sheer corruption tied to the university — particularly as I glance at Robson Hall from campus.

However, students, faculty and community members still await a definite answer as to why the university administration has chosen not to pursue legal action. Indeed, a 2019-20 internal investigation yielded fiscal wrongdoing and the university has stated that “steps to recoup the funds” were taken (unsuccessfully).

So, why has the university chosen not to take legal action against Black-Branch to regain the funds?

One of the few reasons that comes to mind is perhaps the university recognizes that they would not win the lawsuit. Perhaps at the time, legal loopholes were apparent which allowed such vile and corrupt behaviour to occur — provided one was willing to morally sink that low.

In any event, there must be accountability.

The University of Manitoba community and donors deserve a clear answer as to why the administration is not pursuing legal action to recoup nearly half a million dollars of misused university funds.

I eagerly await your response.

Milan Lukes is a student at the University of Manitoba.