With the start of 2017, The Varsity has considered and compared the transparency of five of U of T’s largest student societies: the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), the Association of Part-Time Students (APUS), and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU).
In measuring transparency, The Varsity took into account the availability of board of director packages — which include minutes from meetings and other relevant material — and financial statements on student union websites.
On its website, the UTSU has board packages from the previous five academic years available online. The board packages include minutes and executive reports.
Currently, 12 board packages are online for this academic year, beginning with the initial transition meeting last April. At press time, the latest board package available was from UTSU’s Board of Directors emergency meeting on December 8.
UTSU has audited financial statements from the previous six academic years and operating budgets for this year and the previous three academic years.
The UTSU’s Vice-President Internal and Services Mathias Memmel is responsible for overseeing that board packages and financial statements are made available and accessible online for students.
In an email to The Varsity, UTSU President Jasmine Wong Denike confirmed that, currently, all UTSU board packages and financial statements online are up to date.
When asked about the importance of transparency, Denike said, “It’s incredibly important to have this information available and accessible to our members — without this, how can we expect to be held accountable?”
“Arguably sharing board packages and financial statements publicly is as important as running free and democratic elections. Students have the right to know where their money is being spent,” Denike continued.
Denike also suggested that “clarifying the information” is also important for student accessibility and union transparency.
Additionally, Denike commented that the UTSU makes agreements with other student societies — such as UTMSU and the Engineering Society — available online.
Board meeting packages from the last academic year and nine from this academic year are on the UTMSU’s website. The 2016–2017 minutes have not been updated since their October 29 meeting. Under the UTMSU’s bylaws, at least one meeting must be held every month.
Additionally, the UTMSU has financial statements available online from the previous six years.
UTMSU President Nour Alideeb said that ensuring documents are uploaded is “of utmost importance.”
Alideeb continued saying that changes have been made to the UTMSU website and to board packages this year “so that students can find our board packages more easily and actually enjoy reading them.”
“Moving forward I think the UTMSU should continue to find effective ways to communicate what work is being done for our students,” Alideeb said.
SCSU has the previous five academic years’ board packages on their website alongside eight board packages from this academic year. The December meeting minutes are the latest available package.
SCSU has audited financial statements online for the years of 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2016. SCSU also includes monthly income statements which are included in board packages.
In an email to The Varsity, SCSU President Jessica Kirk said that Yasmin Rajabi, Vice-President Operations, is the current acting Secretary of Board who is responsible for uploading the packages.
When asked about the importance of transparency for students, Kirk said the following: “We believe that it is important to open up various channels of communication with our members as a means to be more transparent and accessible. This includes things like doing outreach, responding to questions asked online, and uploading the necessary reference documents for our members.”
Kirk added that SCSU “will continue to be open to hearing feedback on ways we can improve.”
Previous board packages are available for last academic year on APUS’ website. For this academic year, four packages are currently online. The most recent package that is available online is from the union’s October 5 meeting, which appears to be the latest meeting held.
Audited financial statements from the previous academic years have been posted, however no financial documents from the 2016–2017 year are currently online.
“Access to information is a service, whether at APUS or across the University of Toronto,” said APUS President Mala Kashyap in a statement to The Varsity. “We want our members to be involved so they can shape the work of APUS, but many part-time students may not enjoy the time or capacity to get involved personally and should benefit from our services, campaigns and programming.”
“As a team, our Board is collectively responsible for making sure we meet the needs of our membership and we strive to continue to improve accessibility within our organization,” Kashyap added.
UTGSU separates their council documents into four categories online: agenda, executive reports, highlights, and minutes. All of this content is available online for the 2015–2016 academic year.
For this academic year, six packages have been posted; the latest available documents are from the December meeting, the minutes of which have not yet been posted.
Financial audit statements from the previous two years are available on the UTGSU website.
According to UTGSU’s Internal Commissioner Elizabeth Eng, documents are posted by staff members with her oversight.
Eng spoke on the issue of transparency saying, “The UTGSU understands that it is a Members organization and upholds its responsibilities to its Members as a primary duty. It is committed to transparency and accountability towards its Members and works hard to fulfill the UTGSU governing documents towards this end in spirit as well as practise.”
When asked if there were areas for improvement, Eng said that there “is always room for improvement” but that UTGSU’s Policy and Operations Committee, as well as the Executive Committee, “frequently review the UTGSU practises regarding engagement and transparency.”