Students will have the opportunity to vote on ROSI starting February 11 for student representatives to Governing Council, the university’s most senior decision-making body, for one-year terms. There are eight student positions available across five constituencies. This year, 38 students are running, up from 23 last year. There will be only one acclamation this year, compared to three last year.
Several incumbents, including Aidan Fishman and Chirag Variawa, are seeking reelection. Despite a motion this week that called for international students to be eligible to run for Governing Council, the University of Toronto Act still expressly forbids such candidates.
Disparaged by some students as a largely symbolic position for those hoping to pad their résumés, the importance of the Governing Council has inspired neither ambitious campaigns nor widespread voter interest. Incumbent graduate candidate, Chirag Variawa, argues, “the problem is that discourse is all one sided.”
Students tend to learn about candidates through candidates’ own promotional material, rather than debates. “There are false claims being made, but these are hard to parse,” Variawa noted. Perhaps familiar with these problems, candidate Reema Gowani explicitly included a rejoinder in her platform: “I refuse to make outrageous promises to the student body in order to get votes — I have realistic goals that are achievable.”
While there was a single debate held for graduate student candidates, information about it was almost entirely unavailable. There were three participants, one of whom joined over Skype. Similarly, no information was to be found online about several undergraduate candidates, aside from a brief statement of intent on the
Governing Council’s website.
This lack of awareness might also contribute to an expectation of do-nothing student governors. Variawa complains, “There is one person who has never shown up to a council meeting … and they are not held accountable, either.”
Especially at the undergraduate level, however, students appear to be trying to do things differently this year. For instance, Daniel DiCenzo (Mississauga) and Adrian De Leon (Scarborough) are running as a slate. “When candidates have the same goals and purpose I believe it helps create a greater impact,” said DiCenzo. He added that he hopes to work with other students, regardless of whether or not he and De Leon are both elected. “I still plan to complete the tasks I have set out as a potential governor. I will also work with other student governors and collaborate with them. Students are always stronger together.” DiCenzo and De Leon have been endorsed via Twitter by Munid Sajjab, Univeristy of Toronto Students’ Union vice-president,
Despite the challenges of pushing forward substantive policy at Governing Council, student plans have focused on a few main issues. Among these are improving often demoralizing teaching and course experiences for students. Candidate Ashley Racine writes, “many students … have been tricked into taking courses which sound great, but are taught in a disorganized and disinterested fashion,” because “professors may opt out of the publishing of student evaluations of courses.” She hopes to either pursue a policy of mandatory publication or “putting these evaluations to work in determining faculty positions.”
Fishman takes a different approach, arguing that grade deflation is the chief difficulty, and one that the administration is already aware of. “I plan to put further pressure on U of T officials to increase the pace of mark-raising, and specifically to make our incoming president aware of how much harm our current grading policies do to this university.”
Fees are another major problem pointed out by prospective governors. DiCenzo explains that many students are concerned with “ever increasing ancillary fees.” Gowani similarly notes that her goal is to “make the opt-out process easier than it currently is for students.” Candidate Areesha Jacob emphasizes, bluntly, that the problem is “tuition fees,” providing no further detail.
Apathy towards the Governing Council has itself become a concern for several candidates. Fishman noted that during his tenure, “I did my best to keep in touch with students via my Governing Council Facebook page.” He hopes to expand his program of informing students, stating, “I’m considering hosting an informal ‘office hour’ once a week.” Gowani also cited Internet presence as important, saying, “Social media is a strong way of reaching people in our day and age. Because of this, I will keep an active Facebook page where I will update all followers.” Jacob hoped similarly to improve student involvement: “I plan to create an online survey or questionnaire for my fellow students to fill out.” Racine said of her plans to improve engagement, “It could be as simple as going door to door in the clubhouse building, speaking to students in different fields of study from my own.”
If engaging with students is one problem candidates face, having an impact as one of only eight students of the 50 members on the Governing Council is another. “The most important role of a Student Governor is to be a skilled negotiator, since making progress on any of the issues relevant to students rests largely on convincing other figures that a certain policy is beneficial for U of T and can practically be implemented,” says Fishman.
Most candidates agree with a strategy of persistent engagement with other members of the council. Racine notes that from her time on the Arts & Science Council, she learned that “students’ issues can be put on the agenda, it just takes a persistent person.”