The Arts and Science Student Union is in deep trouble on three separate fronts. Documents have surfaced proving their sitting president conspired to overturn an election he lost and retake control of the union, aided by a chairperson he helped appoint and another powerful ASSU exec. Meanwhile, a poisonous atmosphere in the ASSU office has administrative staff filing grievances against elected executive members who are locking staff out of meetings and restricting their role in running the union. ASSU does not have a voice in choosing the Arts & Science Dean, and none of its executive members have office hours, though the union is active in social advocacy groups outside the university. Ongoing issues have polarized the union in debate over how well it represents the will of its members—the 41,000 Arts & Science students who pay the union roughly $615,000 per year in dues.—ANDRE BOVEE-BEGUN
Ryan Hayes, last year’s ASSU president and the winner of this spring’s scandal-ridden elections, manipulated election results with the union’s CEO and another exec, documents obtained by The Varsity reveal. Emails and chats ranging from March to May 2008 show Ausma Malik, who served as CEO briefly to conduct a review of the disputed election, received instructions and improper input from Hayes and exec Alanna Prasad throughout her tenure.
ASSU is the union representing the university’s 40,000-strong Arts & Science undergrads. They receive roughly $600,000 in annual funding from a student levy, produce the Anti-Calendar, and have representatives from the course unions of every Arts & Science faculty.
Hayes lost ASSU’s March 8 election to Colum Grove-White, causing an outburst that threw the meeting into recess. After Hayes demanded a review of the meeting and alleged that that Grove-White violated pre-campaigning regulations, ASSU launched an investigation. The chair of the meeting, Noaman Ali, annulled the vote and stepped down.
In a March 26 email conversation, Hayes and Prasad pursued the idea of having Malik put forth as a candidate for elections chair and CEO during the investigation. Prasad asked Hayes in a email, “Confirm Ausma as the chair: Ryan can you see if she’s up to this?” Hayes also wrote of Ausma, “I would trust her 100 percent.”
Throughout her review, Malik consulted Hayes and Prasad on her decisions and allowed them to edit her written verdict on the disputed election that Hayes lost. Emails sent between the three show Malik’s final report on the election to be a collaborative effort between Hayes, Prasad, and a handful of others.
“I’m also coming up with an extensive list of points [sic.] consideration in terms of Ausma’s ruling,” reads an April 8 email from Prasad to Hayes and Malik. In another chat, she wrote, “Ausma’s statement in the ruling is wrong though, that’s why ill [sic.] change it.”
The three discussed how to dismiss dissenting parties. Grove-White and Adler both emailed Malik, questioning her neutrality. “I do want you to know that the choice of you as an ‘un-biased’ chair/CEO had me deeply suspicious,” wrote Grove-White. “The majority of the Executive appointed you as Chair, directly undermining Council’s decision to instate Terry as Chair at the last meeting (and breaching the Constitution.) Why do you think they are doing this? Is this equitable?”
Prasad told Malik: “We have to give [Grove-White and Adler] some opportunity to contribute now (in terms of writing a statement), otherwise they’ll just use that against us.”
Malik emailed Adler’s and Grove-White’s formal statements on the first election to Hayes and Prasad, warning them “please delete after reading/use.”
Various student politicians copied on and forwarded many of the emails include former ASSU president Ali, then-UTSU VP Michal Hay, and Sheila Hewlett, current ASSU council member and then president of the Fine Arts Students’ Union.
The Varsity has attempted repeatedly to contact Hayes over the past week. Hayes refused to comment, and Malik and Prasad could not be reached by press time. Hewlett approached The Varsity to comment, denying that any interference occurred. When confronted with emails showing it had, Hewlett stated that Malik was merely checking with Hayes and Prasad over guidelines to be followed. The emails, however, include detailed strategy discussions planning for the verdict and anticipating any challenges to it. They also marginalize input from Hayes’s rival candidate.
On April 8, Hayes emailed Prasad and Malik about overturning the initial election, stating it was “difficult to challenge that the election was unfair” and asking, “How is the appointment of the new chair and CEO legitimate?”
Furthermore, the three pushed the recessed meeting as far into the exam period as possible in order, wrote Prasad, to “avoid an appeals process after the elections.”
As course union representatives received word of a late meeting, former CEO and current ASSU executive assistant Terry Buckland emailed Malik advising her to reconsider. Buckland stated that ASSU had previously overturned course union elections “for holding them the last day after classes and during exam period.”
At the April 23 meeting, Malik dismissed the Hayes’ pre-campaigning charges, citing multiple conflicting versions of campaign rules that left the issue unclear. She then called for a second election.
Malik may have read the decision, but the verdict was already fixed.
Earlier that day, Prasad had emailed Malik requesting her “ruling asap” so that the ASSU pair could make the appropriate changes.
With a majority of his supporters present, Hayes managed to win 23-21, raising suspicions among many ASSU members.
“They knew that the vocal critics of Ryan Hayes could not make it on [April 23],” wrote White-Grove to Malik in an email dated April 10, 2008.
Following the election, Grove-White supporters then took their grievances to the university administration, filing a complaint with Jim Delaney, director of the office of the vice-provost, alleging an undemocratic election process.
These grievances and others led Delaney to consider freezing ASSU’s funds. Delaney has since left the investigation, which is currently in the hands of U of T’s VP and provost Cheryl Misak.
The provost’s office, which handles budgetary matters, can withhold funding if ASSU refuses to follow its assigned recommendations. The leaked emails and chats could have implications on Misak’s ruling, now that they are allegedly in her hands.
Hayes and Prasad enlisted the help of several ASSU execs to edit the minutes from the March 18 and April 23 meetings.
In a Google chat, a former ASSU exec editing minutes, Krystyne James, said she had “no idea what was said” because she was not present during the April 23 meeting.
In an interview with The Varsity last week, Misak said she could not comment on the matter, but confirmed that she had been called on to determine whether ASSU was “dealing in an undemocratic manner.” Misak said at the time she expected to settle the issue shortly.
Update – September 19: The Varsity has received complaints that the correspondence originally posted with this story contains information that is impertinent, and implicates persons other than those involved. In light of the complaints, we have removed the documents and are currently reviewing them.