YURI HIRAMA/THE VARSITY

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) will hold referenda next month regarding the establishment of a new accessibility fund, as well as an Innovation Fund to support the University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT).

According to minutes from the UTSU’s Executive Committee meeting and the Elections and Referenda Committee meeting held on January 13 and January 20 respectively, the establishment of both new funds would require an increase in member fees at UTSG, starting in the fall of 2017.

The proposed accessibility fund would require UTSU members at UTSG to pay 50 cents per session, including the summer session.

According to the minutes, “The UTSU would be required to spend the collected fees exclusively on caption for UTSU events, American Sign Language for UTSU events, personal support workers for UTSU events, and any other accommodations that a member with a disability would need within the UTSU event. The UTSU would not be permitted to spend any of the collected fees on UTSU human resource costs.”

If approved, the accessibility fund fee would be collected for five years, from fall 2017 until spring 2022, after which another referendum would be needed to continue the collection of fees for this initiative.

The UTAT Innovation Fund, on the other hand, would support the team’s co-curricular aerospace projects, including the development and launch of a microbiology research satellite. If approved, it would require each UTSU member at UTSG to pay a fee of $2.77 in the fall and winter sessions.

Members would have the option of opting out of the additional fee through the UTSU.

“With the Innovation Fund, what we’re trying to do is establish a way for students at the university to get more access to more applied experience,” said Stephen Dodge, UTAT’s Director of Strategic Partnerships.

Dodge believes that while U of T has a “fantastic theoretical education environment,” many programs at the university don’t have enough applied learning experiences to offer students.

“That’s where design teams like UTAT come in,” he explained, “and there are a lot of design teams on campus but there are none that are doing quite as ambitious projects as this one that we’re doing, launching the microbiology satellite.”

UTAT’s satellite is the key element of a microbiology experiment that seeks to examine the behaviour of Candida albicans, a dimorphic fungus that is part of a group of naturally occurring flora found in human digestive tracts, over the course of a long-term space voyage.

The satellite, after being launched into orbit, would allow the team to collect data on the growth and mutation of the fungus specimen over the year that it spends in space.

If approved through the referendum vote, the majority of levy-collected funds would go towards funding the most expensive part of the project: launching the satellite into space. The satellite itself is currently in the primary stages of design, with a projected launch date of 2018.

“The design of the satellite isn’t remarkably expensive but actually putting it in space, it’s something beyond what any clubs can do in funding and that’s why we’re looking to students to support us in that regard,” explained Dodge.

He is confident that with the support of students, the team will be able to “raise the name of the University of Toronto in the applied learning category… and bring back the rewards for U of T.”

Voting for both referendum questions is slated to take place over three days next month, from March 14–16.

The UTSU previously held a referendum to establish a levy for student clubs in October 2016. The referendum was unsuccessful, with 74.5 per cent of voters casting their ballots against the proposed levy.

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