Partisan politics emerged as a key theme of the UTSU annual general meeting that took place last Thursday. The three-hour meeting saw all agenda items pass and publicly unveiled a right-leaning student group critical of UTSU, which featured prominently in discussion and debates.As in past years, the meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. started late. At about 6:30 p.m., Chair Ashkon Hashemi, who also serves as internal coordinator for CFS-Ontario, called the meeting to order. Many UTM students were also in attendance.
Five minutes into the meeting, student Brett Chang asked if there would be a general question period for business not stated on the agenda. Hashemi replied that discussion would be limited to motions already stated on the agenda.Peter Buczkowski, a board of directors representative for UTM, attempted a motion to add a period for general questions onto the agenda, but Hashemi replied that general questions can be asked after the president’s address.Michael Scott asked why there would be no separate question period held. Hashemi reiterated that questions could be asked after the president’s address and invited Michael Scott to make a motion moving the address to the meeting’s end. Mischa Menuck made the motion, which was defeated.Throughout the meeting, student Brent Schmidt stated that motions had to be submitted by a November 17 deadline that he described as ill-advertised.“I feel that there’s many people in this room who came here wanting to talk about things who haven’t been able to,” Schmidt said.Invited guest-speaker Leslie Jermyn, chair of CUPE 3902, touched on student political engagement “in these difficult times.”In his address, UTSU President Adam Awad spoke about recent UTSU successes that included both increased student participation in events and a rise in movie and event ticket sales from 200 per week to often over 200 a day. Awad also criticized university administration for their handling of the G20 and the Faculty of Arts and Science academic planning.
Schmidt and Chang both accused UTSU for only increasing clubs funding by 15 per cent while raising the campaigns budget by 120 per cent. They both claimed that students are better represented by clubs they participate in than what they allege to be “partisan advocacy campaigns.”Awad explained that campaigns often represent all members and include the recent protest against flat fees and academic planning proposals from the Faculty of Arts and Science. He added that percentages are misleading and that he considers campaigns to be underfunded.“If you feel unrepresented, it’s important to engage with the organization,” said Awad. “Coming out to this meeting is a great first step, but it requires coming often, it requires sending emails, and asking ‘What’s going on with this?’ […] It requires going out to meetings on a regular basis because all members have a vote every time we have a commission meeting.“If people have specific issues that they want to see the union take up, it’s a matter of engaging with us and actually coming out and participating and that’s the only way that we’re going to be able to respond.“But if we don’t ever hear from you, we’re not gonna know what your issues are.Michael Scott criticized UTSU-run events such as disOrientation for “not embracing a diversity of opinions,” citing the pamphlet’s “blatantly one-sided” stance against ideologies such as capitalism and neoliberalism. Awad replied that UTSU sponsors a diversity of events and cited its participation in a Campus for Christ fundraiser.Menuck challenged Awad to name a UTSU-run event that strained from its normally left-leaning ideology. Awad reiterated that students have to participate in UTSU to have their views voiced.“We haven’t been approached by a group that has a completely opposite ideology from the groups that did disOrientation,” admitted Awad. “That has nothing to do with our capacity to deal with groups that have different beliefs doing events. It’s about people using the student union as a structure for organizing engagement with issues on campus.”One specific club was mentioned during the discussion.“The basic principle of a democratic society is that people of different ideologies and opinions should be heard and should be given equal treatment,” said Jorge Prieto, before explaining that the University of Toronto Free Democrats, a group whose website declares its advocacy for “traditional democracy and free market capitalism,” was denied funding.Prieto alleged that the group was denied funding after it was “deemed to be right-wing and elitist,” before noting the funding of multiple left-leaning political groups.“My question is should the purpose of UTSU be to provide services and things that are good for all students,” asked Prieto, “or should it be to promote a particular ideology that tends to divide rather than unite the campus?”
Awad responded that services are just as political as campaigns, citing how offering health and dental plans is done in response to a lack of comprehensive drug and dental coverage. He then referred club funding allegations to VP Campus Life Corey Scott, who called the allegations “upsetting” and said the process is not political.“Reading over the application, I didn’t even get the idea that it was a right-wing club,” said Corey Scott. “I don’t know where you’re getting your information from, because we aren’t denying any clubs on the basis of ideology. There were actually several clubs I didn’t even want to fund, but I would because it’s not my place to be saying that and the committee agrees.”In a follow-up email to The Varsity, he noted that the club did not apply for funding for the current academic year“Our correspondence shows that the club applied for clubs recognition on October 9, 2010 and sent an email inquiring about long-term funding on Friday, October 15, 2010 — the deadline for long-term clubs funding applications,” said Corey Scott. “This club has not attended the mandatory Club Executive training session which is requisite for long-term funding. We have not received a hard or digital copy of a funding application to date.”He added that the club is still eligible for short-term funding if a representative attends club executive training and noted that Prieto was not one of the official contacts UTSU was corresponding with.After Awad’s address, both UTMSU President Vickita Bhatt and board of director member Mariam Sheikh praised UTSU for their work for UTM students. Neither mentioned their affiliations with UTMSU.
Name Change Semantics
A motion passed to legally change its name from the current “Students’ Administrative Council of the University of Toronto” to “U.T.S.U.” after the name change was approved in a 2004 referendum.Awad explained that senior administration would only allow the use of “University of Toronto” if it was able to approve all by-laws, audits, elections, and more. He said “a bit of creativity was needed,” admitting that having to use initials only “is a bit ridiculous” but ultimately useful since UTSU will save legal fees by not having to change documents related to the student commons project.Awad then presented three proposed name changes for commission, “to make them more accessible to students.”While replacing “Equity Commission” with “Social Justice and Equity Commission” generated little feedback, the other changes provoked substantial debate.Two students criticized switching “External Commission” with “Community Action Commission” for being less value-neutral, while most controversy surrounded replacing “University Affairs Commission” with “Academic and Student Rights Commission.”“Personally I don’t think UTSU works for students’ rights. I think UTSU has been actively working against the entire student body to target specific groups. I don’t believe their policies focus on the lives of students and improve them directly,” said Chang. “Until UTSU begins to represent students, not just one group of students […] I don’t believe they have the legitimate right to change their name to student rights.”Michael Scott disagreed with the change for another reason.“There are lots of student issues external to the university that should be brought to a commission that don’t necessarily fall into the community action label. I think renaming it as such will have the affect of self-selecting out [students] who don’t identify themselves as activists.”Jiayi Zhou noted that she participates in all three commissions and said that “there is value in asserting” their roles.“I dispute the idea that Community Action Commission must mean ‘Activist’ Commission,” said Zhou. “Community action has a much broader and more important meaning than the narrow pigeon-hole the opposition had tried to put it in.”
Criticisms of student engagement
A handful of students who participate in commissions criticized detractors for not doing likewise. Schmidt gave an impassioned response.“I think it’s maybe a little a bit offensive to those students who are in this room who find it hard to even find the two hours of day to come to this AGM, to be told that our opinions only matter if we come to the commission meetings.“’Cause quite frankly I study a lot to attend this university; I do a lot of activities in the community, and to be involved in student politics as well is a heavy burden. And I do want to participate and I try to come to meetings, but I do not believe that my opinion is only valuable insofar as I attend one of those meetings.”Schmidt was met with an indirect reply from a single-parent student who says she commutes four hours each day.“It really upsets me when I see students who don’t participate in the community,” she said. “When you put yourself into that ring and file a complaint and stand up and make statements at the podium, you need to be accountable for how much time you’ve invested into student affairs.”After conversation digressed, the motion was called to question and was passed. A five-minute break was then called.
Seven changes to UTSU by-laws were approved, most involving minor rephrasing. One proposed ammendment generated about half an hour of discussion. It would change the three executive appointees to the Elections and Referenda Committee from the top executives positions to any three executives.VP Equity Danielle Sandhu clarified that the was motion intended to “avoid situations of conflict of interest” that UTSU executives have had to manoeuvre around for years, since many executives have sought reelection.“I find that there’s actually a truckload of things that could be put under this category of elections,” said Schmidt, explaining why he would abstain from the vote. “I don’t think this deals with any of the things that students came here to talk about.”After some confusion, Daniel Bertrand, UTSU representative to the Students’ Law Society, clarified to attendees what a conflict of interest entails.One student moved that the board, rather than the executive, be made responsible for choosing which executives sit on the committee. Hashemi ruled the amendment out-of-scope from the original proposal. He welcomed an appeal to his ruling, which was discussed in depth before being defeated.A motion was passed to remove chairing the Blue Crew, a campus cheering squad, from the list of responsibilities for the VP Campus Life. Sandhu explained the group had become redundant after four years of inaction and replaced by other campus spirit groups, although Chang and Michael Scott said the motion was defeatist.Hashemi closed the meeting at 9:30 p.m.The print edition of this article incorrectly quoted Corey Scott as saying “…we are denying any clubs on the basis of ideology.” He actually said that UTSU is not denying funding on ideological grounds. The Varsity regrets the error.
In case you missed it…
Didn’t attend the meeting and think our article is long winded? 6 fun facts from the UTSU AGM:Last year’s AGM started at 6:45 p.m. and finished at 11:00 p.m.Hashemi asked a moustached Bertrand if he was aware that movember was over.Noting the success of pancake brunches for commuter students, Awad observed that UTM students seemed to eat four times as many pancakes as St. George students.There was slight confusion as Hashemi addressed “Scott,” pointing in the direction of both Michael Scott and UTSU VP student life Corey Scott.Sandhu said she was relieved at not having to wear the Blue Crew over-allsAwad mentioned that UTSU could focus more on offering movie tickets, but stated he’s more of a bookworm.
A challenger appears
Student Political Action Committee (SPAC)SPAC’s Facebook group describes itself as “a forum for ideas of how we can pursue the mission of increasing accountability, efficiency and realism in our student union” to confront individual grievances with UTSU.
Co-founders Schmidt (top) and Chang (bottom) stressed that the group will launch next year and is a non-partisan advocacy group. A significant amount of members participate in right-leaning groups on campus. When asked if they would be running for election, Chang told The Varsity he would not, while Schmidt declined to comment.SPAC photos by ANDREW RUSK/The Varsity