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Provost names committee on democracy in student government

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U of T administors have struck a committee to set guidelines for student governments in order to ensure democracy and transparency. Cheryl Misak, VP and provost, ordered the committee after she froze the Arts & Science Student Union’s student levy funding this semester, citing improper conduct in their spring elections.

U of T admin is responsible for collecting and distributing student union levies, but has exercised the power to withhold funding if they suspect that its processes are not democratic, according to the Policy for Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees.

“Nothing changes in terms of what the provost can and cannot do. Rather these guidelines will provide clarity on what the provost expects,” said Misak. The advisory committee appointed by Misak is made up of 10 students, seven professors, and two administrators. They will brainstorm recommendations for fair and democratic processes. Misak will take these suggestions to construct a final set of guidelines, used by both student societies and administrators.

“The issue with ASSU was one of the prompts for this committee,” said Misak. Former ASSU president Ryan Hayes resigned in September, after leaked emails obtained by the Varsity revealed collusion with elections officer Ausma Malik to ensure his election to presidency. However, the administration has seized union funds on other occasions.

Misak referred to a case in which Governing Coucil voted to transfer the membership and levy money of part-time UTM students to UTM’s full-time student union, instead of the downtown-based Association of Part-time Students. A total of 52 students voted in the referendum. The decision was rescinded after Ontario courts found that the referendum did not follow APUS rules.But APUS representatives said their case has nothing to do with why the committee was struck. ”In our case it was the university ignoring and not following their own rules about membership changes and fees,” said Joeita Gupta, APUS VP of internal affairs.”

According to their policy, a referendum by another student union on APUS’ membership is illegitimate.

Jill Matus, vice provost for students and a member of the committee, said the initiative is a step in the right direction. “Many students are craving this kind of guidance of transparency and clarity,” said Matus. “Guidelines that work with broad principles and are mutually agreed upon are much more useful. Nobody wants to impose concrete rules.”

Colum Grove-White, committee member and the new ASSU president, said the committee’s discussion is an opportunity to prevent the administration from intervening in student affairs.

“The onus now is on student leaders,” said Grove-White. “The way to prevent funds from being withheld in the future is for organizations to strengthen their constitutions.”

The student democracy committee will meet this Wednesday, and invites suggestions. Send your ideas by Nov. 21 to [email protected], by mail (Room 225, Simcoe Hall), or by fax at 416-978-3939.