Representatives from five student unions requested on Tuesday that the university’s Governing Council add ex officio seats to UTM and UTSC’s campus councils. Members from UTSU, SCSU, UTMSU, APUS, and the GSU all voiced their support for student ex officio positions on the campus councils.
“All councils should have fair and accurate representation across their campuses,” said Chris Thomson, president of the University of Toronto Mississauga Student Union. “Ex officio seats have been brought up as necessary for elected representatives to bring our concerns to the table.”
The UTSC and UTM campus councils were first proposed in a 2010 report on the university’s governance, and will be formally established by July 2013. The campus councils will oversee campus-specific concerns and report to the Governing Council.
The student unions’ request drew a number of responses from Governing Council members during a question period on the floor, re-opening a debate about the proposed structure of campus councils that has been ongoing since the matter was first raised in 2010.
Under the current plan, campus councils would have 26 members, four of whom would be elected students. The only ex officio positions, which are given to members because of their other elected positions at the university, would be for the chancellor and president of the university, and the chair and vice-chair of the Governing Council.
The student unions have framed the matter as one of transparency and freedom of information.
Guled Arale, vice-president external of the Scarborough Campus Student Union (SCSU), said that ex officio seats would bring greater transparency and improve student leaders’ access to information. According to Arale, ex officio members of the campus councils would also have privileges not typically offered to other members, including access to campus list-servs, and opportunities for consultation and debate on sub-committees.
Both Arale and Thomson discussed the need for increased student participation in campus committees. Arale said during the meeting that he wanted to see ex officio seats included in addition to the elected positions currently proposed.
“We want to get as many students as possible,” Arale said. “Division [of representation] is good for governance.”
Administrative staff member P.C. Choo and student representative to Governing Council Aidan Fishman, among others, raised concerns about the student unions’ demands.
Choo voiced his opposition to ex officio positions for anyone but “senior administrative staff.” He recommended that those concerned run as student representatives for the university’s governing bodies.
Fishman took issue with the student unions call for transparency, claiming that elections for student unions lacked just such transparency. He pointed to the boycott of StudentsFirst in the UTSU election two years ago, over what the slate perceived to be an unfair election.
Other council members raised the issue that ex officio seats could decrease constituent diversity on the councils, as more students could be represented if candidates unaffiliated with the unions were to run independently for the campus councils.
Choo elaborated on this point in during an interview.
“I am not in favour of ex officio representation on principle,” Choo said. “I have spoken to some student leaders a couple of months ago on this and have made my stance clear. In my conversations with the student leaders, they had made it known that they are quite comfortable with the non-voting option. This is exactly my point — if they are non-voting, how can they make a difference where it counts?”
Consultations about the distribution of elected seats in the university’s governing bodies will be held throughout November. Governing Council is set to meet again on December 13.