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The Varsity

The University of Toronto's
Student Newspaper Since 1880

Colleges schedule March referenda on severing financial ties to UTSU

Colleges threaten to host votes themselves, if union refuses

By Zane Schwartz
Published: 2:45 am, 4 March 2013
Modified: 3 pm, 11 May 2013
Vol CXXXIII, No. 18 under
Students at the TCM voted in favour of holding a defederation referendum  BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY
UPDATED

Meetings at Trinity, Victoria, St. Michael’s and Engineering this week unanimously approved the holding of referenda to sever financial ties with the University of Toronto Students’ Union. Trinity scheduled a vote from March 25–29, and Victoria from March 23–26.

Shaun Shepherd, the outgoing UTSU president, has said the union will not host the referenda, as requested by the units seeking defederation. Instead, Shepherd offered to meet again with college leaders, saying he wanted to “focus on issues of primacy” such as illegal fees and access to multi-faith prayer space, and less on “silly” issues, including defederation, that he says are a “distraction.”

“Every few years we see this push for some type of drastic change,” said Shepherd.

Shepherd’s offer of mediation was swiftly rejected by college leaders, all of whom are determined to put the question of continuing financial ties with the union to a vote before the end of this academic year.

“Faith has been lost in the UTSU’s ability to hold meaningful dialogue,” said Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) president Shoaib Alli.

“This tactic isn’t new. They’ve been doing it all year. They defied the will of their members at the SGM in February, they’re trying to defy the will of their members now, and they’ll keep defying the will of their members until we fight back and throw off this degraded, corrupt system,” said Sam Greene, co-head of Trinity College. “Ninety per cent of what we’ve heard from the Union this year, and for the past decade, is prevarication, equivocation, misdirection and obfuscation,” said Greene.

Shepherd has publicly maintained that the UTSU’s bylaws do not allow for such referenda, and that only the union itself may determine its membership. However, item XIIc of the utsu bylaws states that referendum questions: “must be approved by the Board by three-quarters (3/4) of the Directors.”

Shepherd, who has a vote on the Board of Directors, acknowledged that a referendum could be approved this way, but ruled out the option, saying, “I’m just not going to do that.”

“The only possible explanation for the UTSU refusing to have a referendum is that they know they’ll lose,” said Greene. “They’re left with only two options: allow a democratic referendum and lose, or shut down and ignore the democratic will of their members.”

 

Unanimous Support from Colleges

BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY

The Trinity College Meeting (TCM), VUSAC , St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU), and the Engineering Society’s Board of Directors all voted unanimously to host referenda under their own rules if the UTSU will not supervise a vote on the prospect of their financial exit.

Three student societies released reports this week on the logistics of defederation. The reports all reach the same conclusion: local units can provide all of the services UTSU does, at equal or reduced cost. SMCSU says their report is forthcoming. The UTSU rejected this analysis and repeatedly voiced concerns about the accuracy of the reports.

The engineer’s report claims that there is a potential for a $94,830 surplus if Engineering were to secede. Similarly, the VUSAC report claims severing financial ties with the union and re-routing student fees would yield “at minimum” $99,328 in new funds.

All colleges have indicated that it would be up their members to decide whether to allocate the funds to new projects, or return it in savings to their members.

Corey Scott, UTSU vice-president, internal, authored the union’s response to the Trinity report; the response alleges “many false factual and interpretive claims.” Scott added that “accurate information is crucial to the democratic process” and voiced concern that “students at Trinity will be voting based on the inaccuracies” contained within the original report.

Despite Scott’s objections, the Trinity College Meeting attendees, all of whom received copies of both the Trinity report and the UTSU response, unanimously approved a call to hold a referendum in late March.

The UTSU’s vice-president, equity, Noor Baig,  attended Trinity’s meeting as an observer and declined to answer questions.

Following the TCM, Shepherd sent a letter to VUSAC president Shoaib Alli, requesting that discussion of defederation be taken off the agenda.

“Our position continues to be that a dialogue between the UTSU and the VUSAC is the preferred approach to addressing issues raised by VUSAC,” Shepherd wrote.

Shepherd also attended Friday’s VUSAC meeting, and responded to questions for around one hour. It was here that he conceded that the union could hold a referendum, if the board approved it by three-quarters majority, while also reiterating that he did not feel a referendum was in the best interests of students.

A number of students at the meeting raised concerns about defederation, although it was unclear if they were Victoria students. At the end of the meeting 17 voted in favour, with zero against and zero abstentions.

 

Vice-Provost appears “non-commital”

BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY

Last week, Shepherd sent a letter to Trinity warning of “clear legal precedent” prohibiting financial secession. The Engineering Society and VUSAC received similar letters this week.

A courtroom conclusion seems probable, and will hinge largely on what action, if any, the university administration takes. The UTSU maintains that any referendum will be “of no effect,” although it is the University Affairs Board (UAB) of Governing Council that will ultimately vote on whether to approve the diversion of fees.

In letters sent to the units seeking defederation, Shepherd wrote that the UTSU “takes issue with your attempts to involve the university administration in the UTSU’s internal affairs.”

Vice-Provost Jill Matus declined to answer The Varsity’s questions on whether the UAB would consider a referendum from the colleges. Matus said only that “the University is analyzing the issues and will be writing to UTSU President Shaun Shepherd.”

Matus has also met in recent weeks with college leaders seeking defederation, including Sam Greene and Rishi Maharaj. According to Maharaj, Matus remained “non-commital” during those meetings but indicated that UAB would likely consider the referenda.

  • http://www.facebook.com/samgreene11 Sam Greene

    Unbelievable. First, Mr. Shepherd dismisses calls for referenda on UTSU fees by Trinity, Victoria, SMC and Engineering as “silly”. Then, he has the gall to call on us to meet with him to work on whatever issues he considers to have “primacy”? The arrogance of that position is indescribable.

    The next step, then, is to threaten us with “clear legal precedent”. The implication being that, if push comes to shove, he’ll use tens of thousands of dollars of student fees to sue his opponents into submission. If students, through a referendum, send him and his team a message that they don’t want to hear, the UTSU response will be to intimidate them and ignore their democratic will. Of course, he knows that in actual fact referenda are perfectly legal, and that he could solve all of this acrimony simply by holding referenda under UTSU’s own procedures. And then he could make the case to Trinity students that the issues he cares about have “primacy” over their concerns (like the fact that UTSU has a $950,000 salary budget while clubs funding still hasn’t cracked $300,000). But his answer is that “I’m just not going to do that.”

    “Every few years we see this push for some type of drastic change,” said Shepherd.

    Maybe that should indicate something? Maybe the fact that people have now lost faith in UTSU so seriously that, for the second time in three years, incumbents will be uncontested on the ballot, is actually a sign of something deeply wrong with the Union?

    • Brandon

      Hear Hear!

  • A Student

    Vote No to the Incumbents!

  • Matt

    I thought SMC voted on Sunday night to also hold a referendum?

    • Open access

      They did. It was too late for publication, though.

  • Skarn

    Shaun Shephard is a miserable excuse for a president.

    • Change

      Don`t forget that every year – people have the same criticisms of the President by the end of the year. Stop the cycle – vote no!

    • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.corinne Sarah Corinne Berger

      These types of personal attacks are really unnecessary and don’t help us make our case against the UTSU. They don’t belong here.

      • Dante

        Skarn’s comment is a legitimate criticism of Shephard’s presidency. He’s attacking him as president, not as a person. Saying Shephard’s bad because he eats puppies would be illegitimate (or would it?).

      • Hardy Weinberg

        Sarah, for the upcoming VUSAC AGM, is your vote set to go forward to a referendum? It should be noted the referendum will be discussed and voted on by the general membership.

        • Guest

          Honestly, it is not business to know how someone will vote in the coming days if they don’t want to share that publically. Show up and see.

          • Hardy Weinberg

            Yup, Sorry Sarah it was a bit rude of me to ask. I just peaked my interest when she was referring to “our case”. Anyway it is becoming increasingly unlikely i will be at the VUSAC AGM, good luck to those attend, be good to each other and keep an open mind. :)

          • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.corinne Sarah Corinne Berger

            Hey Hardy, VUSAC already voted in favour of having a referendum, so that’s why I referred to it as “our case.” And tonight’s AGM only confirmed that with many additional students present (albeit not as many as I would have like, but there is still time to educate)– so we will be going forward towards the referendum!

          • Hardy Weinberg

            Thanks sarah. I heard VUSAC’s discussion ended with folks saying “If VUSAC doesn’t get it’s shit together by the time referendum comes around, then vote No.” I can assure you, I will be holding VUSAC accountable to that.

  • Z.M

    I’d say the biggest problem with this article is it ignore Shaun’s justifications for his positions. He argued (At the VUSAC meeting) that in his experience as President the majority of students do identify with his positions and that opposition disproportionately comes from college governance (and others closely alligned with colleges). UTSU is no a federation of colleges but a collection of students, and I like many would likely to continue my membership in this union and don’t by into the hyperbolic demonization of our union President and his team.

    • Leon The Alumni Lion

      Then if you feel that way, pressure UTSU to host the referendums and put it to the membership. If UTSU win, it proves what you are saying, if otherwise, it proves you are wrong. Either way, let this be democratically decided

    • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.corinne Sarah Corinne Berger

      If that is true and the majority of students feel that way, then the vote will reflect it and you have nothing to worry about. I agree that “defederation” and “secession” do not describe what is happening here. What is in fact happening is a whole groups of students is choosing to leave the union and send their fees elsewhere. UTSU may be a collection of students, but its a collection of students who feel that they are a. represented unequally and inequitably across-campus b. who feel disenfranchised from the union c. who are frustrated with the union’s past 10 years of electoral scandal and refusal to change and d. are looking for representation by a body they trust more.

    • http://www.facebook.com/evan.boyce Evan Boyce

      While it’s wonderful that Shaun thinks a majority people agree with his positions, I personally would rather hear what a fair, democratic process, (like, oh I don’t know, a referendum or something) has to say about what students identify with, rather than whatever the President “feels” like they identify with. And that doesn’t even begin to address the question of “so if you’re confident that students agree with you, why not affirm it in the fairest way possible?”

      What’s more, you talk as if VUSAC, TCM, SMCSU and EngSoc just exist as radical UTSU opposition groups, while in reality they exist as democratically elected student governments whose actions are being held accountable to their respective memberships. It seems a little ridiculous to discount that opposition as “disproportionate”. If anything, it speaks to just how high student dissatisfaction with the UTSU is running.

  • jas

    um varsity unanimous approval by college council =/= unanimous approval by students of a college. so sloppy. also i’m really looking forward to maybe 500 people voting yes on something that is not binding for the union at all. i love campus drama but this is beyond boring and pointless. i miss change.

    • Guest

      Wait a minute – so the UTSU passes motions at it’s AGM starting campaigns against styrophoam, being in solidarity with Idle No more, and all the nice things, but when something that you don’t agree with wins a vote, you deem it be sloppy, boring and pointless?

      • jas

        lolllllllllllllll how do you know that i agree with what the utsu does? assumptions fail. lollllll i called this varsity article sloppy, not the vote for “referendum” – did this article win some kind of a vote?? reading comprehension fail.

  • Oh, Come On!

    Sometimes I feel like the UTSU wants to give people reasons to be so upset, like a quota they need to fill every year. There is literally no other reason to not hold a referendum, not even attempt to implement online voting, and then send threatening letters to the colleges that are clearly unhappy with UTSU – a union they pay fees to.
    I don’t know if someone could possibly have handled this worse. So much for “Unity”.

    • Change

      Time to renew – renew the salaries!

  • Brittany Tyler

    “Meetings at Trinity, Victoria, St. Michael’s and Engineering…”
    What if I told you engineering isn’t a place?

    I remember when I came to the UofT in engineering, I did not know the UTSU was a union for all university students – I thought it was the Arts and Science union. THAT’S how little they did for me (despite collecting fees from me). I get my handbook from the EngSoc office and I spent F!rosh week doing what the engineering community organizes (not with my college residence, which spent considerably much more time going to UTSU events). I still remember back in first year when a UTSU member came to SF to tell us about the horrors of flat fees, not realizing that he was in an ENGINEERING building and ENGINEERS benefit from flat fees. The UTSU doesn’t work for me, understand the priorities of engineering students, and certainly doesn’t advocate my rights in a democratic setting, However, EngSoc does.

    • Pierre Harfouche

      +1

  • Average Undergrad

    Where is UC? I need my money back from UTSU

    • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.corinne Sarah Corinne Berger

      Your president did come out in favour of eventually having a referendum to secede, but decided against it for this year. Although he has still been part of the dialogue, as he attended last week’s VUSAC meeting and met with members of the administration (gov council and UAB) to discuss whether they would consider diverting fees if students clearly voted for it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.corinne Sarah Corinne Berger

        Actually I believe he came out “in solidarity” with Trin, Vic and EngSoc… will have to fact check

  • Wes Dutcher-Walls

    GUYS, don’t panic, but I figured out that ‘TRIN DEFEDERATES’ is a near-perfect anagram of ‘I DET[E]ST REFERENDA.’ This is serious!

    • http://twitter.com/Brad_Evoy Brad Evoy

      See, that’s cool, but here are some perfect anagrams of TRIN DEFEDERATES:
      – Attended Reef Sir
      – Readied Fern Test
      – Enter Dead Strife
      – Add Ferniest Tree
      – Attire Defenders
      – Defiant Deserter
      – Retreated Fiends

      • http://twitter.com/wallswesdutcher Wes Dutcher-Walls

        “Attire Defenders” seems about right.