Zuhair Syed’s impeachment referendum took place from Feb. 3 to Feb. 5, with UTSC students voting to remove him as president of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union. The decision will still need to be ratified at a board meeting.
With the 2010/11 executive elections already underway, Scarborough campus students are being inundated with a new crop of candidates.
How did Syed arrive at this position after more than three years in student politics? It certainly marks a significant dive in support for the fourth-year management student, who was often backed by a large majority of the board of directors and first ran for office mere weeks after starting classes at UTSC.
In the second part of a new series on current events seen through the lens of the Varsity archives, here’s our look back on Zuhair Syed’s time at the SCSU and how it all went down.
October 2006—Syed runs in the SCSU fall election as a first-year candidate. He is the only one in the category to be disqualified among 14 other candidates after incurring four strikes for club endorsements and 12 instances of illegal campaigning. Despite getting the most votes (88), appealing to the Elections Appeal Committee, and having one strike later retracted, Syed’s disqualification remained in place and he was not elected.
Oct. 19, 2007—Serving as chair, Syed breaks a tie vote during a board of directors meeting and votes to censure then-president Rob Wulkan. The motion concerned complaints regarding Wulkan’s statements to the press about the halal menu at Bluff’s, the campus restaurant that has since closed. Many blogs and media outlets like the Toronto Star and the National Post picked up on the story.
June 20, 2008—Interim president and VP academics Fatih Kurt recommends Syed be hired for the position of interim president and CEO at an SCSU board meeting. Syed had been disqualified in the spring executive elections for using his official SCSU account and for sending a text message after campaigning period was over. He was hired over two other candidates, effective May 23, 2008. Kurt presently serves as VP human resources.
October 2008—Syed is elected president in the SCSU fall by-election, with 212 votes, over opponent Massey Ahmar’s 113. The SCSU board of directors vote to ratify Syed as president for the 2008/09 year by a vote of 6-0-6. Current VP academics Aisha Khaja, chair Imran Khan, and VP HR Kurt are among the yes votes. Out of more than 10,000 students at UTSC, only 325 votes were cast.
January 2009—Syed sends an email to all students announcing the closure of campus restaurant Bluff’s to take place Feb. 6 due to “severe financial difficulties.” Staff at Bluff’s alleged that the closure was an act of retaliation and the result of financial mismanagement on the student union’s part, referencing the $63,000 total pay increase SCSU alloted itself the previous year. Staff also noted a Ministry of Labour claim regarding unpaid wages. Syed denied these claims. Syed and then-interim accountant Cihan Ok blamed the restaurant’s poor finances on mismanagement and miscommunication from former Bluff’s manager Zalia Conde and former SCSU accountant Henry Climaco, both of whom they fired.
February 2009—Syed wins the SCSU spring executive election over opponent Daniel Greanya by more than 170 votes to become 2009-10 president-elect. After various student protests, a radio show, and coverage in Maclean’s online, the election saw more than 1500 completed ballots, a record turnout. The election was also notable for a number of changes to the election rules regarding the number of voting days, strikes needed for disqualification, Facebook involvement, and rules about campaigning.
Oct. 20, 2009—In the space formerly known as Bluff’s, Syed helps open a new eatery called Rex’s Den. In a press release, Syed said the revamped space will be a great spot for students and will improve campus life through options ilke residence delivery, ethnic food options, longer hours, and regularly scheduled events.
Jan. 4, 2010—In mid-December, The SCSU passes motions to issue a Tier 3 censure to Syed and remove him of all duties and responsibilities as president and CEO by a vote of 9-2-1. By early January, VP external Amir Bashir replaces VP academics Khaja as interim president after allegations of conflict of interest arise. Khaja said at an earlier meeting that an altercation with Syed on Dec. 13 left her “afraid to come to work.”
Prior to the Tier 3 censure, Syed had received three Tier 1 censures, which are verbal reprimands for absence in meetings and failing to produce reports. He also received a Tier 2 censure on Dec. 14 that ordered him to write an apology letter to Khan and Khaja for an incidents in the UTSC library. At the time of the article (Jan. 4), Syed had not written the letter.
Jan. 25, 2010—An emergency SCSU board meeting sets into place the dates for a student referendum that would determine if Syed would be stripped of his pay and effectively impeached. A special referendum protocol is drafted by Bashir and vice-chair Pagalavan Thavarajah for the occasion after chair Imran Khan received a deposition containing more than 1,000 student signatures for Syed’s removal.