Within the span of two days, the Arts and Science Students’ Union has lost its student fees and its president.
Interim VP and provost Cheryl Misak has decided to withhold ASSU’s funding for the time being after she reviewed their two controversial elections from last year, as she informed the union Tuesday. On Wednesday, Sept. 17, ASSU president Ryan Hayes resigned via an emailed statement.
Both decisions came after The Varsity uncovered the collaboration between then-candidate Hayes, elections chair Ausma Malik, and then-exec Alanna Prasad on elections procedures and reports. Leaked emails and chats cast doubt on Malik’s neutrality, showing that Hayes and Prasad decided to put forth Malik as a candidate for election chair.
As chair, Malik threw out the initial election that Hayes’ rival, Colum Grove-White, won. The second election was pushed as far into the exam period as possible to “avoid an appeals process after the elections,” reads an email message from Prasad. Malik also asked Hayes and exec Alanna Prasad for input on her decisions and let them edit her verdict and the election report. When Grove-White lost the second election, he appealed to Jim Delaney, director of the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students. The investigation was handed over to Misak because Delaney is a claimant in an unrelated investigation involving ASSU executives.
In her decision, Misak invoked the Policy for Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees, which allows her to withhold funding “if the Office of the Vice-Provost Students has reason to believe that a student society is not operating in an open, accessible and democratic fashion.” Her office, the Office of the VP and Provost, is responsible for U of T’s academic and budgetary matters.
Part of the dispute over the initial election stemmed from ASSU’s lack of official written rules for its elections. Hayes said he operated under past practice that disallowed campaigning. “Those were always the rules,” he said. Grove-White received written rules from an ASSU staffer stating that campaigning was permitted. Hayes and those who ran alongside him have claimed that ASSU staff, who are in the midst of a labour dispute with the execs, were not neutral in the election and supported the Grove-White slate. Misak’s letter to ASSU exec Sheila Hewlett, dated Tuesday, Sept. 16, voiced concern over the lack of written rules. “There was an absence of specific rules or procedures that might have brought openness and democracy to the situation,” the letter reads.
In an interview that took place immediately after he resigned yesterday, Hayes rejected the validity of the policy governing ASSU’s funding from student fees, which he said has a vague definition on the student society’s undemocratic conduct.
“They only need reason to believe, not definitive proof. The administration as an entity is biased in a referendum or election. The administration has interests because we negotiate with the administration,” he said. “The point that was made to her was that procedures already exist within ASSU to deal with any disputes.” The ASSU constitution states that instances not covered would be addressed by Bourinot’s Rules, parliamentary-style rules of order and procedure. Misak’s letter said referring to Bourinot’s is insufficient.
Sandy Hudson, president of UTSU, agreed with Hayes. “Under no circumstances should the administration withhold funds based on internal student union governance matters,” she said. “When there are electoral improprieties, it is the members, that is the course unions of ASSU, who have the responsibility to ensure that the organization is running smoothly.”
Grove-White called Misak’s decision “a double-edged sword.”
“On one side it will result in a transparent democratic process,” he said. “But on the other it jeopardizes funding for those course unions who really work on behalf of their students.”
In her letter, Misak said the ASSU constitution does not describe “a clear procedure for dealing with complaints from members” and later noted that “ASSU has no rules for the conduct of elections for President.”
When asked whether ASSU should have specific rules for complaints and the election, Hayes said, “If you want to do something, whether it’s a complaint, or something else, it’s the same policy. It’s all the same, because it’s all democratic. It would be redundant.”
Hayes’ written statement of resignation does not admit any unethical behaviour on his part. “This [the leaked emails] has resulted in sensationalized reporting largely revolving around petty personal politics and gossip, which I feared would be used to distract from the important work of ASSU for the remainder of my term,” it reads.
According to ASSU’s constitution, the exec can select a replacement for vacated positions until a by-election can be held. Regularly scheduled elections for four exec positions will take place next Monday, Sept. 22. Exec Edward Wong said the presidential election will not be held on that date, because there is little time for nominations. At press time, the chief elections officer position has not been filled.
Grove-White isn’t sure if he will run. “I think I need to talk to some course unions,” he said. “I’m a little worried because of ASSU’s current predicament and about who is willing to step up to the plate if I don’t.”
Both of ASSU’s remaining execs, Wong and Hewlett, declined to comment on Hayes’ resignation and the fund freeze. Wong said the execs would meet and would respond to Misak’s letter, as requested, by noon on Friday, Sept. 19.