Last year’s UTSU elections were eventful to say the least. Rather than bringing students together for a discussion about serious problems at U of T and how to move forward, they served as a mechanism to further divide students. Accusations of racism, negative campaigning, and a hostile debate environment only added fuel to the fire. Now is the time for the union and key political players on campus to move on and take serious steps to improving both the union and the student experience this year.
In order for the union to operate effectively, it must be able to reach all U of T students. Ideally, this is where the colleges would assist the union, so that campaigns and events can be planned and initiated successfully. However, there is a longstanding divide between the UTSU and some of its constituent colleges. The UTSU, in the past, has not been transparent enough with the colleges. Some colleges, for their part, have tried to undermine the legitimacy of the union (pulling out from UTSU frosh kits and excluding the UTSU from the St. George Roundtable, for example). It’s a poor relationship that seriously reduces the potency of the union to represent all students.
This year, the UTSU should take steps to mend this gap with the colleges by making meetings as transparent and accessible as possible to college representatives. By establishing this transparency, the UTSU would give colleges an open forum to air grievances and hopefully reach compromises, improving the dialogue between the UTSU and those who oppose it.
To make inroads with the opposition and colleges, the UTSU will likely have to make its electoral process smoother and more transparent as well. While the vote itself seems democratic, UTSU opponents claim the rules and regulations surrounding the elections penalize the challenging slate. A Chief Returning Officer that plays favourites does not lend any democratic credibility to the election process, and thus, leads to students becoming disillusioned with the union’s ability to represent them effectively. The solution to this problem is simple: reform and relax the electoral code so that all students have a shot at holding office. To do this, the union may have to do a better job of asserting itself within the Canadian Federation of Students. Organizing nationally has proven beneficial to the UTSU; however, more autonomy is needed to change the election process.
Once the UTSU has addressed these issues and earned more of the students’ confidence, the union should tackle student life issues at the university. U of T is a large commuter school, and building community is a monumental challenge, one that needs to be addressed by the UTSU. Working with colleges, the UTSU should plan more events that bring together all students and build spirit. The UTSU should also work more closely with the Varsity Blues to get students involved and excited about U of T’s athletic endeavours, and to improve turnout at Blues games. Additionally, building community at a large school like U of T requires a thriving clubs scene. The UTSU should do its best to increase clubs funding, allowing clubs to attract more students and take on more interesting projects.
Finally, the UTSU should continue to represent students and pressure the administration and government officials to reduce tuition fees, and address other grievances that students have. The UTSU must not be overly political, but they should not hesitate to be assertive with the government when it comes to making education accessible and affordable to all. That’s not being political, that’s representing students.
It is my hope that the UTSU and other student leaders on campus can take some of these steps to lead U of T into a brighter, better future.