U of T’s membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) has been thrown into doubt with the release of an administration ruling on the fairness of the referendum.
Three campus-wide referenda were run by the Students’ Administrative Council (SAC), the Scarborough Campus Student Union (SCSU), and the Association of Part-Time Students (APUS) between Nov. 5-7. SAC members voted 58 per cent in favour of joining the CFS, while 78 per cent of APUS students, and 87 per cent of Scarborough students said “yes” to the Federation.
The administration ruling, written by Jim Delaney, the assistant director of Student Affairs, was critical of the entire referendum process—including its basic structure and the body charged with supervising the vote.
Delaney’s concerns about “the oversight and management of the referenda” led him to say in the letter that he “cannot certify that the processes have been fair.”
He also concluded there had been “a significant number of violations of by-law requirements, as well as rules and procedures within the societies. Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to verify that the request for fee increases has been authorized by due constitutional process of the organization.”
His final conclusion was that “there may have been an unbalanced playing field in favour of a ‘yes’ vote in the referenda.”
The office of Student Affairs became involved in the CFS referenda because Student Affairs controls the transfer of student money to student societies and outside groups. As a result of Delaney’s concerns about the referenda, Student Affairs will not bring a motion to the university affairs board of Governing Council to transfer U of T students’ money to the CFS.
That means unless a student on the university affairs board brings the motion forward, the CFS will not receive its membership dues from U of T undergraduates—violating the terms of membership in the Federation.
Delaney was critical of the overseeing bodies of the referenda—the three Joint Referendum Committees (JRC). SAC, SCSU and APUS appointed two members to each JRC. The CFS appointed two paid organizers, Lucy Watson and Ashkon Hashemi, to the JRCs. Delaney noted the JRC system was not consistent with U of T referendum procedures. “At their core, the respective JRC committees fail to provide opportunities for checks and balances because they apparently owe no accountability to the SAC, APUS or SCSU,” Delaney said, adding that because the JRCs were not subordinate to any other body, “there is no real opportunity for appeals of decisions.”
Delaney also criticised the independence, partisanship, transparency and alleged bias of the JRCs. He listed other concerns with the referenda, including the approval of campaign materials, problems with poll clerks advising students how to vote, and campaigning on voting days.
SAC’s external commissioner, Alex Artful-Dodger, suggested that the Delaney letter may have been outside the bounds of the administration’s role in approving the decisions of elected student societies: “They voted to increase their fees and I don’t see what the administration’s role in it is.”
She added: “I am still confident that our fee increase request meets the criteria for a fee increase and that the university affairs board will agree with us.”
Artful-Dodger said she would try to get student members of the university affairs board to move that membership dues be transmitted to the Federation: “There’s a couple of student governors that are quite amenable.
She was suspicious that the “No” committee, which lost the referenda, was active in getting Delaney to take action. “To be honest, I think there’s been a very concerted effort by a small and vocal group of people who tried to discredit the process.”
Alex Kerner, a SAC representative from University College and a former SAC president, said he was dismayed at Delaney’s conclusions. “I am disappointed that the office of Student Affairs has decided to effectively sideline a decision that students made democratically and that student societies made.
“The administration is not responding to the wishes of student societies and the students that elected them.”
Kerner added that U of T’s SAC will “continue to be full participating members of the Canadian Federation of Students.”
SAC president Rocco Kusi-Achampong was jubilant at the decision. “It’s a win for democracy, fairness and the students at U of T, whose voices were supressed by those with a specific interest in a positive outcome.
“It saddens me today that the administration had to protect the interests of students at U of T instead of the student council.”
He said legal action from the Federation was a distinct possibility. “The CFS will demand a fee as per our obligations under the bylaws,” adding “it would be hypocritical on the part of the Federation.” to sue for its membership dues.
Peter Josselyn, the head of the No campaign in the Nov. referenda, was also pleased. “I think it’s admirable that Student Affairs has done this. In terms of what it means, I think U of T autonomy has been respected.
“We don’t have to deign to the standards of democracy that the CFS espouses,” Josselyn said, adding “I think it’s great that we get free ISIC cards.”
He thought many of Delaney’s recommendations came from a banker’s box full of documents that he and another No campaign volunteer, Andrew Ash, compiled. “I think a great deal of it came out of our concerns. It was students that advocated that the referendum was not according to U of T standards.”
Josselyn said Artful-Dodger and Kerner told him the Federation was considering legal action. “They alluded that there would be a lawsuit one way or another, by the CFS…. The CFS will want to collect its fee.”
Ash was also happy with Delaney’s recommendations:
“I think that it is an excellent and fair decision. I think we have to put a lot of careful thought into the next referendum. The CFS has lost the trust of students on this campus.”
Photographs by Simon Turnbull