Flat fees policy to be changed this year

Minister Duguid feels UTSU, other students’ unions made “compelling case” for change

Flat fees policy to be changed this year

The flat fees policy of the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto has been hotly contested by various student unions since it was implemented in the fall of 2009, with student leaders demanding reform. In an exclusive interview with The Varsity, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Brad Duguid confirmed that he plans to introduce changes, although he is vague on specifics, later this school year. Duguid, who assumed the post in February 2013, is the first minister in years to even discuss potential changes, let alone confirm they will be implemented.

Under the flat fees system, there is a single fee — rather than a fee-per-course rate — for students taking anywhere between three to six courses. The U of T administration deems the system necessary to bail out the Arts & Science faculty deficit and allow for advance budgeting. Student leaders find the system unfair as, among other concerns, they claim it makes it difficult for part-time students or students with financial difficulties to afford their schooling.

Duguid held several round table discussions with student leaders this summer to talk about various issues, including the flat-fee system.  In March, prior to these discussions, Duguid reduced the cap on annual tuition fee increases over the next four years — meaning that tuition over the next four years will only be allowed to increase by three per cent instead of the originally-planned five.

When speaking with The Varsity, Duguid said he feels it is his responsibility to “see the system through the eyes of students,” with a particular emphasis on flat fees and deferral fees. Duguid said that while he understands the challenges facing the university administration from a fiscal perspective, he feels the student leaders he has spoken with from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) have “made a very compelling case that there needs to be change.” When asked about what these specific changes might entail, Duguid was unable to give concrete answers, but he agreed that the system is unfair to students who wish to take a smaller course load for work and family related reasons. Duguid said that in his mind, “at the end of the day it comes down to fairness.” Duguid had stated in discussions earlier in the year that he wanted to implement a change to the flat fee system, but when asked when students could expect such a change, he would only say: “We will be making some changes in the near future…we’ve been very clear that we will be making a change soon.”

While students wait to see these changes, various student leaders have already made clear what they hope the minister will alter. The official UTSU stance on flat fees has been the same for years: that they are extremely unfair to the student population and should be eliminated. Agnes So, vice-president, university affairs of the UTSU echoed those sentiments: “The best case scenario would be the elimination of the flat fee policy. A revision to the per-course fees system would make more sense…instead of using a flat fees system as a means to exploit students.” The UTSU would like the new system to allow students to choose how many courses they would like to take, and for students who only choose to take three courses to not have to pay the additional money for courses they will not receive. The UTSU has invested significant resources in fighting flat fees, including creating a dedicated website to educate students on what they say are the inherent problems of the system, and a lobbying document for the university. The UTSU’s representatives at the CFS shared this document with provincial policy makers, who announced a moratorium on the implementation of flat fee policies at other institutions in the future. So feels that this last step means that the Ontario government will soon be ready to revise the flat fee systems that are already in place.

Susan Froom, president of the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS), has also spoken out against the flat fee policy, but is confident that Duguid will come through with the changes her association wants to see. Froom mentioned the meeting held with the minister this August, during which he agreed on the unfairness of the flat fee policy for students. Froom also shared statistics from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which released a report last week indicating that the average cost of tuition fees will increase by 13 per cent by the 2016–2017 academic year. Froom referenced this statistic to illustrate how students in Ontario pay the highest tuition fees in the country, something that is particularly difficult for those who are effectively part-time students, even if they’re taking more than three courses and are paying full-time fees. Ideally, APUS would prefer an elimination of the flat fee policy, but barring that, they are hoping for particular revisions that will account for students who take less courses for family obligations, disabilities and work responsibilities.

Despite protests and disquiet from student leaders over the years, the U of T administration still stands by the flat fee system. The Arts & Science faculty at U of T implemented the policy to pay for the rising faculty deficit, which can be more easily addressed with the funding that flat fees provide. In a statement to The Varsity, the office of the president stated that it believed the flat fee policy allowed students to take more courses than they normally would on a pay-by-course basis, as students can now take six courses for the same price as five.  The statement continued: “From the Faculty of Arts and Science’s perspective, revenues from the Program fee were re-invested in the programs, allowing the Faculty to meet student demand, and to assist with the delivery of curriculum.” When asked about possible revisions to the policy, the office cited the findings of the Program Fee Monitoring Committee at the end of the 2011–2012 school year, which stated that the implementation of the fee did not limit accessibility to courses and did not have a negative impact on grade point averages. The office also stated that the flat fees system does not apply to students with disabilities or part-time students who still pay per course.

Part of the disconnect between students’ unions and the administration comes down to how each defines part-time students. All students who take 2.5 courses or less are officially considered part-time, and pay per course. While the students’ unions acknowledge this, they have consistenly pointed out that, while some students may technically be full-time, they are practically part-time students, in that, due to other obligations, they can not take more than three or four courses.

Skepticism, concern greet Student Societies Summit

Provost invites more than 20 student groups to address long-standing issues

Skepticism, concern greet Student Societies Summit

Following months of silence, Provost Cheryl Regehr released a statement on Thursday outlining details of the upcoming Student Societies Summit. This is the latest mediation effort by the administration, meant to resolve ongoing issues between various student societies. The summit cannot effect policy change. Since the statement’s release, some student leaders have expressed reservations about the possibility that the summit will lead to a meaningful resolution.

The conflict revolves around referenda, considered illegitimate by the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), that were conducted by the Trinity College Meeting (TCM), the Engineering Society (EngSoc), and the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC). The referenda approved the diversion of fees from the UTSU, in resistance to what societies claim are undemocratic and unrepresentative practices — although the VUSAC referendum fell short of the required voter turnout. The fee diversion issue prompted Governing Council to postpone the Student Commons, a project for U of T’s first student-run space, which is in its seventh year of negotiation.

Jelena Savic, president of VUSAC, expressed concern about the fact that the Summit cannot effect policy change. “I was under the impression that we were going to partake in a policy review process, not a continuation of the largely unsuccessful facilitated discussion that had occurred earlier this year,” she said. In response to Savic’s concerns, UTSU president Munib Sajjad cited the hundreds of student leaders not invited to the summit. “Any policy change must be the democratic will of the membership at large, and not imposed without them having the opportunity to add to the conversation.” Professor Joe Desloges, who will act as chair of the summit, stated that if the summit does not come to a resolution, and it therefore becomes necessary to undertake further analysis of the issues in question, the issues may be considered as part of a policy review. This echoes a part of the provost’s statement, which reinforces that only Governing Council can effect policy change.

Savic also cited concerns about the speed with which the administration is tackling the issues, stating that half of the students who had voted in the referenda will graduate at the end of this year. “I am deeply concerned for the momentum of this potentially revolutionary movement. It would break my heart if the hard work and dedication of last year’s executives and this year’s leaders fizzled into a perpetuation of this cyclical dissatisfaction with the state of student governance on campus.” She added that she intends to enter the discussion prepared to listen, and hopes that the summit results in meaningful change in student governance at U of T.

The summit is the second mediation attempt by the administration, following a seven-hour session led by law professor Brian Langille this June, which did not lead to a resolution. “Our mediation session with. Langille highlighted the futility of trying to construct a middle ground on a black and white issue. The UTSU either continues to take Trinity students’ money, or the money is remitted to the TCM to provide superior services to Trinity students,” said Benjamin Crase, co-head of Trinity College. “Frankly, we are currently in a position where compromise is not a tenable solution to the deep-seated mistrust and discontent felt by Trinity students.”

Crase also stated that, as far as the fee diversion issue, the numbers of students who voted to divert fees from the UTSU speak for themselves. “Over the course of this year, I predict a period of unprecedented change. Delaying the Student Commons decision clearly demonstrates that the university shares this understanding and agrees that fee diversion is a viable option that needs to be accounted for.” In response to this statement, Sajjad stated that “the university and the UTSU made the decision to delay the approval of the Commons together, to give the UTSU an opportunity to address concerns without giving rise to new ones.”

Sajjad expressed optimism that the Summit will lead to a resolution agreed upon and beneficial to the entire membership. He stressed that he is primarily interested in developing relationships of collaboration and respect between the UTSU and its peers at other unions. “The conversations we will have at the summit will be assuredly continued when we converse amongst ourselves,” he said.

Mauricio Curbelo, president of EngSoc, stressed that the institutional interests of both the UTSU and the EngSoc must take a backseat to what he views as the democratically-expressed will of students, as articulated in the referenda. “The ideal outcome [of the summit] would be one that permits students, through student societies, to self-determine via fee diversion — that is, to be able to have the more local organization provide services and representation.” He cited dissatisfaction with the representation and services provided by the UTSU to EngSoc, adding that attempts to resolve this issue through the UTSU’s own processes have proven to be unsuccessful.

Desloges stated that his prefered outcome is one that is democratically formulated by the student societies, with respect to their different interests. He hopes that expert advice on democratic structures, as well as input from the large group of student groups invited to attend the summit, will help to inform the outcome. Faculty members set to attend the summit include professors Donald Ainslie, Graham White, and Linda White, who will be joined by at least three representatives from the administration. At least 20 student societies and associations are invited to attend the summit, many of which are not directly involved in the fee diversion issue.

A number of other groups, including “student clubs, and other members of the University community” have been invited to submit written statements. The summit will centre on two discussion questions focused on the democratic structure of student governments. The first asks students to consider the current policy structure, with four representative student groups, supported by mandatory fee deductions from students, recognized by Governing Council. It asks, “how can the sometimes distinct interests of divisional societies be supported and respected in a democratic manner?” The second asks: “What are the implications of these answers on the evolution of the democratic structures of the student governments or on fee support for the activities of the divisional societies?” The administration originally asked each student society to submit the names of two representatives for this event by September 1, but extended the deadline to September 15. The process is expected to involve multiple meetings, with the scheduling of the first meeting set to take place next week.

Foreign service workers enter fifth month of strike

No resolution in sight as more questions raised about processing of student visas

Foreign service workers enter fifth month of strike

The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) continues to be embroiled in a legal strike position that began on April 2, 2013. PAFSO is the union that represents foreign service workers employed by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development. These professionals include the employees of Canadian embassies around the world who manage and process visa applications — including those of international students.

NANCY JI/THE VARSITY

Fortunately, though perhaps unexpectedly, the dispute does not seem to have resulted in any significant decline in the distribution of student visas. Sonia Lessage, spokesperson for the CIC, explains that the number of student visa applications has increased by six per cent since last year, but 12 per cent more have been issued, resulting in a 79 per cent approval rate, which is higher than the previous year’s. Richard Levin, the University of Toronto’s registrar says that the university has “been communicating with new international students over the past months and monitoring students’ visa progress and inquiries. Based on this we are cautiously optimistic that there won’t be a large impact on incoming students. However, since students register online, it will be impossible to know for certain for at least a few more weeks.”

This does not mean that the strike has not caused problems for international students. Aisha Hassan, an international student from Singapore, had to transfer her student visa to a new passport this year. Students are advised to begin this process at least a month before the old passport expires, and Hassan did so two months prior. “Mine expired in August, but I applied for the transfer [in] early June I guess, but I didn’t get it until mid-August, which is pretty last-minute, when you think about it,” explained Hassan, “Usually the most I think for a study permit would be not even eight weeks; it’s very unlikely it would be eight weeks, but yeah, mine took a lot longer than expected. I was actually scared I wouldn’t get it on time.”

“I would think that the students most affected would be the new students just coming into Canada, because it’s a much longer process. Depending on where you’re from, you have to do medical exams and get acceptance letters, and that takes more than two months, I would say,” she concluded.

U of T’s Centre for International Experience (CIE) made note of the unusual difficulties international students may have had this year in securing their visas. Throughout the summer, the CIE filled their newsletters with messages warning students that CIC workers were on strike and that delays in the processing of applications should be expected until the resolution of the dispute.

Lesage acknowledged the possible inconvenience, and encouraged students to submit their visa applications as soon as they could, rather than waiting until the department’s deadline, to best ensure that they could be processed in time. “Those who had their applications in on time, those who had all the necessary documentation or whose applications are complete, are overwhelmingly seeing their applications processed,” said Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, “There are probably some that came in later than we would have liked to see who may experience some disruption, but that actually happens every year. I think we’ve seen a remarkable response to an unprecedented demand for the Canadian educational system.”

While CIC’s success at continuing to process and distribute visas is perhaps a relief to some students, it raises the question as to how exactly the department is continuing to perform this service if all the professionals who are supposed to do it are on strike. Lesage was vague in her explanation, saying only that “All visa offices remain open and continue to provide service to clients. Every visa office maintains a core number of staff that have been deemed ‘essential.’ Over 1,000 locally-engaged staff continue to work in the visas [sic] offices overseas. Moreover, CIC is requesting that essential staff work overtime where possible.” These 1,000 so-called “essential” employees who are providing services to clients and keeping CIC’s visa offices open, are almost certainly not members of PAFSO.

Chiefly at issue in this dispute is what PAFSO terms a $14,000 “wage gap” between the salaries of foreign service workers and other, similarly qualified federal employees who do similar work — such as economists, commerce officers, and policy analysts. “There is no valid reason why FSOs [Foreign Service Officers] should not be paid exactly the same,” said PAFSO spokesperson Chrystiane Roy, adding: “Equal work should result in equal pay.”

There appears to be no end in sight to the strike, as PAFSO and the Treasury Board have not engaged in meaningful negotiations since January of this year. The most recent attempt to end the strike was in July, when the union proposed to enter into arbitration to settle the dispute. However, nothing came of this proposal as Tony Clement, president of the Treasury Board, refused to enter the process unless six preconditions he submitted were imposed upon it. Clement could not be reached for comment for this story.

As a result, PAFSO have filed a claim of bad-faith bargaining against the Government of Canada with the Public Service Labour Relations Board (PSLRB); on the grounds that the Treasury Board has “knowingly and intentionally demanded conditions for binding arbitration that could not reasonably be accepted.” PAFSO president Tim Edwards stated that “We can only conclude that Treasury Board is acting with prejudicial intent toward Canada’s Foreign Service — behaviour that should be of serious concern to all Canadians. We are seeking judicial intervention to compel the government to negotiate in good faith.” The labour withdrawal continues as the parties await the pslrb’s ruling. “Ideally, this ruling would include a punitive measure for the government which would force them into arbitration. If such a scenario were to unfold, the strike would not immediately be over, but as a gesture of good-faith, PAFO members would return to work and suspend all job withdrawals,” explained Roy from Ottawa.

For students, the PAFSO strike practically seems to have caused, at most, a limited problem. Visas, while sometimes delayed, are not being withheld with any significant regularity, and in fact seem to be getting processed more efficiently than ever. However, the government of Canada faces claims from a union of its employees that it is refusing to reasonably and fairly bargain with them, and continues to somehow maintain enough staff to do those employees’ work in their absence. “PAFSO has done everything in its power to resolve the issue. The government has done exactly the opposite,” Roy concluded, “Canadians should be shocked that in order to spare $4.2 million over the course of 3 years of our contract, the Government is willing to inflict serious loss to Canada’s economy and reputation abroad.”

Food for thought: pilot project reignites food truck debate

Critics say Toronto’s regulatory structure discourages street food

Food for thought: pilot project reignites food truck debate

As Toronto enters its second month of a pilot project involving food trucks stationed in five of Toronto’s parks, the efficiency of food truck regulation in the city is under the microscope once again.

Zane Caplansky, owner of Toronto’s first modern food truck, is critical of the project. “The whole idea of trucks in parks is stupid,” said Caplansky, who has advocated for an increase in the number of food trucks in Toronto for the past two years. He would prefer to see a study of trucks on city streets in order to observe how they function in relation to restaurants and other businesses, instead of observing them in parks, where he says they are “a waste of time and a waste of money.”

Jen Salazar, who runs the food truck for Smoke’s Poutinerie, said that she “expected more from the project, but [the revenue] is okay.” Carleton Grant, director of Policy and Strategic Support at City Hall, explained that the project was launched in parks to avoid the contravention of bylaws and surplus traffic congestion.

The bylaws governing the operation of food trucks in Toronto are strict, especially in comparison with cities such as Ottawa and Vancouver. In Toronto, the cost of a license is $400, and each worker must hold an individual license, which cost $300 each. Under the Mobile Refreshment Vehicle Bylaw, food trucks must also pay $45 per employee for a criminal-background check. In Vancouver, anyone wishing to sell food on the streets must hold a business license — which costs $50 — in addition to a permit for each mobile food vending unit. For a general street vendor, the owner is required to pay an annual sum of $1,073.29.

Tony Elenis, president of the Ontario Restaurants, Hotels and Motels Association (ORHMA) acknowledges the advantages of food trucks: they help to create jobs and build community. However, Elenis is adamant that “brick and mortar restaurants should be protected,” as he fears that allowing food trucks to sell on the streets would risk putting restaurants out of business. “Places with a comparative price point, places with a small take-out menu are most affected by food trucks,” Elenis said.

Salazar does not think that a food truck could ever cause a restaurant to close, and Caplansky maintains that there is no evidence that food trucks are a threat to other eating establishments. Salazar admits that the Smoke’s food truck does better business than its storefront, but attributes the truck’s success to the “media hype…[food trucks] are a new concept.” Caplansky emphasizes the role of the media in the positive public perception of food trucks: “Torontonians are very frustrated because they see shows like Eat St., and realize that food trucks are cool and fun… But where are they?”

Food trucks on St. George Street and Queen Street West, as well as outside City Hall and the Rogers Centre, operate under an older permit, before the number of permitted vendors was capped at 28 after a 2008 moratorium. By contrast, Ottawa boasts a total of 61 vendors, following the approval of the New Street Food Vending Program in 2012. Caplansky is concerned that the “monopoly” the older trucks have on the few locations is damaging the competition necessary for the economy to work. Elenis agrees that competition is important, but stresses that it has to be fair, and allowing food trucks to be stationed near restaurants is “just unfair.” Elenis added that food trucks are better suited to parks and festivals, and disagrees with the idea of a study of trucks on the streets “because it would be against our intentions.” Elenis said that he would be happy to see food trucks in places where there are no restaurants, such as university campuses.

Food trucks seem like the perfect solution for students who are hungry for fast, inexpensive, and tasty food, and it seems that students would like to see more food trucks, with more variety, around the university area. “I had six straight hours [of class] today, and couldn’t eat. If I could have grabbed something, maybe something healthier, I would have been grateful,” said second-year student Larissa Parker. U of T invites food trucks onto campus every Friday with the popular Food Truck Friday event.

Caplansky hopes that a new project will be under way next spring, but expects that the changes will be slow. Grant confirmed that there is research being done on food trucks in Calgary, with a view to discussing the findings and taking suggestions back to Toronto for spring 2014.

Annual UTSU Street Fair aims to engage students in campaign to pedestrianize St. George Street

Annual UTSU Street Fair aims to engage students in campaign to pedestrianize St. George Street

Last Tuesday, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) held a street festival, featuring campus clubs and organizations in an effort to inform students of the many club options available at U of T, as well as promote school spirit.

“The Street Fest also serves as an example for the entire community of U of T of what pedestrianizing St. George Street could look like,” says UTSU president Munib Sajjad. “St. George Street could, in future, be a communal space where campus groups can host events.”

At the street festival, over 100 student groups from various clubs, course unions, and service groups participated in an attempt to solicit new members for the upcoming year and highlight the wide variety of services they currently offer.

Caroline Leps, academic coordinator at the International Relations society says: “It was a successful event, with engaged U of T students of all years that were looking for opportunities to get involved, both within their areas of interests but also to broaden their horizons.”

UTSU executives hope pedestrianizing St. George Street will ultimately improve campus life. Brochures promoting UTSU’s initiative to pedestrianize St. George Street were handed out to students, encouraging support and garnering attention.

The initiative to pedestrianize St. George Street was first proposed by last year’s UTSU president Shaun Shepherd.

The UTSU Community Action Commission is spearheading the campaign. The commission plans to increase awareness and engagement among students this year.

“We have already begun lobbying the City of Toronto and the neighbouring residence associations to build greater support for the campaign,” says Sajjad.

The street fair worked to provide students with a model of the prospective campus landscape, but the presence of corporate sponsorship upset some students.

Angelo Gio Mateo, president of the U of T United Nations Society, which had a booth near the south of St. George Street, had qualms with the organization of the UTSU street festival. “It was not a very good atmosphere at the UTSU St. George Street Festival,” says Gio Mateo. “Many people commented about how big corporations all occupied the middle section.”

“We try to be very selective with our sponsorship. We focus as much as possible on local contributions,” says Sajjad. He went on to say that they exclude companies that are potentially problematic for students, such as credit card solicitors.

Corporate sponsors — including TD Bank, Shoppers Drug Mart, CIBC, Pizza Pizza and National Bank — were present.

Levi Cassidy, a fellow with Ask Big Questions, questioned the objective of the event. “If the aim of the fair was to create a space for companies to promote their products or services to students, with some club representation on the side, then sure, it was a resounding success. But, if the goal was something more along the lines of making the centre of campus into a fun, entertaining place where students could get excited about starting their year at U of T, then I think the fair fell short,” he states.

 

Disclosure: Angelo Gio Mateo sits on the Board of Directors for Varsity Publications. 

The growth of the Good Food Box

UTSU initiative helps bring healthy food at affordable prices to campus

The growth of the Good Food Box

The Good Food Box provides an opportunity for U of T students to access healthy, locally grown produce on campus at low prices. The bi-weekly program provides produce boxes, available for pick up at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) office on alternating Wednesdays at 2 pm, with both orders and payment due by midnight the Monday before. Boxes vary in price from $13–$34 and with multiple options based on distribution of fruits and vegetables, as well as size. The contents of the boxes vary seasonally in an effort to include fresh and local produce. UTSU vice-president, internal & services Cameron Wathey, who sat down with the The Varsity to explain the program, reminded students to bring bags to carry their purchases home as the actual boxes are reused by the program.

The boxes are distributed by FoodShare — a non-profit organization dedicated to making fresh, healthy food accessible to all.  U of T has become a FoodShare hub by significantly exceeding the requirement of five boxes per week.  Today the UTSU averages anywhere between 25–30 boxes per bi-weekly period — and Wathey hopes the numbers will continue to rise. Ryerson and York have also partnered with FoodShare, distributing Good Food Boxes to students on
their campuses.

All students on campus are eligible to order; however Wathey particularly encourages off-campus students and commuters to take part in the program as it offers an alternative to expensive and time consuming grocery shopping. This year the project will be expanded into both Woodsworth College and the Transitional Year Program. Interested students can place their orders for the September 25 pick-up either online or at the UTSU’s office in Hart House Circle by September 16.

Bikechain moves to North Borden Building

New location can serve more students

Bikechain moves to North Borden Building

The University of Toronto’s go-to bike service facility, Bikechain, has moved to a new location in the North Borden Building after several years of searching for a space for their growing organization.

Founded in September 2005, Bikechain is an organization that offers do-it-yourself bike repairs and services that are largely free of charge, funded through a dedicated student levy that was increased this year, following a referendum last spring. According to Bikechain, last year more than 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty members, used the facility. Therefore, to accommodate for the organization’s growth, Bikechain relocated from the basement of the Centre of International Experience (CIE)’s Cumberland House, to the North Borden Building at 563 Spadina Crescent in mid-August. The North Borden Building is a dramatic improvement from their previous location.

The new space, previously used as a storage facility, was renovated by U of T to accompany Bikechain’s needs. With the larger space, Bikechain now offers three times the tools and double the stands for bike repairs, as well as an online booking system for their bike-lending program. The new space also allows Bikechain to be more community friendly. Due to the limited space at their Cumberland House location, many had to be turned away. Now, Bikechain has a reception desk and waiting area — equipped with comfortable couches, a fridge, and microwave, as well as books and board games to occupy visitors as they wait. Despite having not fully set up yet — there were a number of delays caused by construction — the new space has already seen an increase in traffic. Throughout the week, nearly all the work stands and many bike users fill the office. “[The previous location] was in a basement, and we didn’t really have a storefront. This location is on street level, which increases traffic,” explains Bikechain Administrative Coordinator Dominic Wong. This year, he expects Bikechain to serve over 4,500 members of the U of T community. “We’ve had a lot of support from the U of T administration, faculty, and students because they recognize it as something they can get behind. It benefits the school population and is good for sustainability,” says Wong.

Previous Bikechain Coordinator and current board member Toby Bowers, speaks of the long process that led to finding a new space. “I started speaking with people in student life, people in the sustainability office, people in facilities and services…I would explain to them how badly we needed extra space, so over time enough people had it in the back of their mind.” Eventually, one of the property managers at U of T offered Bikechain their current space. However, this will not be the organization’s permanent location. While it will stay put for the next couple of years, Bikechain’s ultimate goal is to permanently locate to the UTSU’s proposed Student Commons project. “Part of our occupancy agreement with the university is that once the Student Commons area is available, we move,” says Bowers. However, the project was delayed by the administration for a year this summer, citing ongoing conflicts between student divisions. Regardless, significant construction is needed at 230 College St., the future home of the Student Commons.

In the meantime, Bowers hopes that their current location will help Bikechain continue to expand, stating: “It’s a good opportunity to redevelop some of the community that we didn’t have the space to have before. So I’m very much excited for the new space and I’m looking forward to seeing how it will change and evolve over the years.”

The politics behind Homecoming

UTSU-led planning brings largest crowd in years; Trinity and EngSoc decline to participate

The politics behind Homecoming

For the first time in many years, student leaders from across U of T worked together to bring students out to Homecoming. However, like many other events this year, ongoing conflicts between the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the Trinity College Meeting (TCM), and the Engineering Society (EngSoc) soured a seemingly unrelated event.

“It will be nice to see everyone together pumped about the game of football” said Onik Khan UTSU vice-president, campus life, who spearheaded the organizing of Homecoming festivities. The plans leading up to Homecoming were ambitious in scale, with students from all three campuses coming to Varsity Stadium to cheer the Blues football team against Guelph in their first home game this year. Student societies from across U of T joined together to fund, and encourage their students to attend, a pre-game rally in the University College quad, as well as attending the game itself on Saturday.

The level of collaboration was unprecedented for recent years, as well as the advertising drive, which papered campus for weeks in the run up to the event.

However, student leaders from Trinity College and the EngSoc have raised concerns about the planning process spearheaded by the UTSU and ultimately elected not to partner with the union for game related festivities.

Benjamin Crase, co-head of Trinity College is concerned not only with the planning process, but with more long term issues: “it’s hard to collaborate when we are blatantly ignored” he said. Crase is referring to the referendum held by Trinity College last spring where a majority of students voted to sever financial ties from the UTSU. The UTSU does not recognize the legitimacy of that referendum.

Mauricio Curbelo, president of EngSoc, which held a similar referenda, had broad concerns about the planning process: “I don’t see what they want us to “collaborate” on other than the cost. The whole idea of the homecoming “committee” is a facade meant to make the UTSU appear “collaborative” when they’ve actually decided everything beforehand” he said via email. He added that it was ridiculous for a student union with a budget of $1.3 million to ask smaller student societies for $2400 to assist with costs.

Grace Slobodian, vice-president campus life at the University of Toronto Mississagua Students’ Union (UTMSU), has a very different description of the planning process. “I believe that [the] UTSU has a done a phenomenal job organizing the event” she said, adding that she felt involved in every part of the planning process and that it was noteworthy that the UTSU “brought students from all three campus, from different colleges and faculty [sic] together to celebrate”

Munib Sajjad, president of the UTSU, echoed the sentiment saying: “As the first home game of the Varsity Blues football team of the year, we felt this would be a great opportunity to showcase the very energy we instill during Orientation week.”

The union plans this year to be the first of many in which student societies collaborate on Homecoming planning.