Though only attended by about a dozen spectators, last Monday’s Governing Council debate managed to bring out recent controversies on campus, particularly after the floor was opened to audience questions. The event was held at Sid Smith and sponsored by the U of T French Club and the Muslim Students’ Association.
EFUT alumni chair Antonin Mongeau directed the proceedings, calling on candidates to respond to questions from three moderators: second-term governor representing part-time students Joeita Gupta, ASSU president Gavin Nowlan, and Varsity Associate News Editor Dylan C. Robertson. The candidates debating were (ordered by constituency and division) beginning with full-time undergraduate division 1: Jorge Prieto, Aly Madhavji, Nicholas Gan, and Ron Leung; full-time undergraduate division 2: Cary Ferguson; part-time undergraduate: Brian Kerr, Dustin Hiles, and Maria Pilar Galvez; graduate division 1: Morgan Vanek and Oliver Sorin; and graduate division 2: Chirag Variawa and Mu-Qing Huang.
The first question concerned economic difficulties that the university has been experiencing in the recession, and what the candidates’ ideas were to begin remedying those financial pressures. Prieto, Madhavji, and Vanek said they planned to lobby the government for more funds, with Madhavji commenting that he is “completely against” flat fees. Prieto said that it is important for there to be a review process so that money from donors does not come with strings attached and Vanek similarly expressed her discomfort with corporate donations. Nonetheless, both candidates admitted that the university relies on donations from alumni and others. Madhavji and Kerr both felt that mismanagement of funds was part of the problem, though Kerr added that, as a certified accountant, he’s hesitant to make pronouncements without seeing the books.
Robertson then asked the candidates’ opinions on the issue of student groups and access to campus space. Galvez and Madhavji both advocated for free space, arguing that students are paying for such space as part of their tuition, with Madhavji saying there should be a free online service for students to reserve space. Ferguson said he would look at the current policy and see why students are charged so much. Gan felt better management was the solution.
Gupta continued by asking if the candidates felt that “strategic disruptions” (i.e. protests) were effective ways for students to voice their concerns to GC and, if not, what they would consider more effective. Gan felt it was ineffective, saying “they should try to at least tell us rather than just chanting songs, which does not help anyone at all.” Galvez said she thinks that the protestors were expressing themselves when they felt they had not been consulted, or when they could not otherwise speak at GC proceedings, but that the protests should be well-timed, pointing out that in February a disruption interrupted a presentation by students.
Once the floor was opened to audience questions the debate became particularly engaging. Matthew Gray, who was a UTSU presidential candidate before his slate, StudentsFirst, decided to boycott the elections last week, had one particularly pointed question for Galvez. He asked why she had deleted comments about his slate’s boycott on the pages of UTSU election-related events on Facebook, something that did not seem in line with the ideals of dialogue and listening to students’ voices.
A debate within a debate began as the moderators tried to decide if the question was relevant — Mongeau thought it went to character, while Nowlan and Gupta thought it was irrelevant to GC debates, and Gupta felt it was inappropriate to single out one candidate. It was decided that Galvez could choose whether to answer, and she explained that the issues raised on the Facebook groups should have been brought to the CRO or the elections and referenda committee at UTSU, of which she is part, not debated on Facebook.
MSA vice president external Ishraq Alim asked the candidates’ thoughts on the UTSU elections after StudentsFirst’s boycott. Gupta said that this question was a potential conflict of interest for several of the candidates, and Nowlan reminded the audience that they were welcome to ask the candidates after the debate was over. Instead Alim asked about corporate donations, alleging that Peter Munk had asked to GC to prevent events on campus in which student groups are critical of Munk and his mining company.
“Donors do have control of what is being said and what’s not being said on our campus, whether we like it or not,” Alim said. “What are you going to do about it?” Mongeau backed up Alim’s allegations, saying, “We know the events surrounding Barrick Gold or Peter Munk specifically. The university will send people out to tear down your posters. They will send security, they will bill you for it.”
Madhavji agreed that it is a problem. “You can’t silence half the student groups, for example, just because you have $50 million,” he said. “I am totally against that.” Kerr said he is for corporate partnerships, but draws the line at sponsorships. “I think [corporations] should have all kinds of input as to what courses are taught […] Sponsorship, not so much. I don’t really want someone to hand me money, there’s always strings [attached].”
James Nugent, a graduate student in geography, asked what the candidates would do if a GC meeting were cancelled and not rescheduled, as happened in September of 2010. Leung responded that he was against such behaviour, and would lobby against those practices. Huang said that, since the question was so hypothetical, it is hard for her to say what she would do but she imagined she would talk to her colleagues on GC to find a solution. Ferguson said it would depend on why the meeting was cancelled, so Nugent provided the hypothetical scenario that the non-student governors were “at their cottages.” “In that case,” Ferguson replied, “I would raise hell,” and mobilize students. Gan also said he would have to know why the meeting was cancelled and what the agenda items at the meeting would have been, and that he would try to meet with the organizations that would have been present.