During vusac’s first Annual General Meeting last Wednesday, Victoria College students just passed a motion to hold a referendum to redirect $200 in utsu fee charges to VUSAC. The motion passed with 23 out of 44 students voting in favour, six against, and four abstaining. The motion was non-binding motion, but one that signals that Victoria College would go forward with its scheduled referendum in late March. At the meeting Rowan DeBues, a VUSAC Member-at-Large, said, “this is not a move to defederate from the union,” but rather, a move to redirect its fees that would still have to be approved by the University Affairs Board of the Governing Council.
With such a slim margin of support, there was clear opposition from both Victoria College students and alumni on adopting the non-binding motion, citing concerns such as lack of communication and the short length of time in which students would have to make a decision.
Katrina Vogan, a second year literature and physics student, questioned the timeframe of the decision, stating that it was “very quick”, and that the report “seemed rash” and two weeks was too quick for adequate education on the issue.
Ashley Quan, the Chief Returning Officer for VUSAC elections, responded to this with a clear assertion that there would be a yes/no campaign that utilized all channels of communications to make sure Victoria College students were as “ educated as humanly possible.”
Questions also arose about the financial aspects of the fee diversion, especially about whether the almost $100,000 that would be received would account for Victoria College’s needs. While Jelena Savic, VUSAC’s Finance Chair, promised that the funds would be able to “cover all the costs for sure, 100 per cent,” many students demanded that VUSAC put up a detailed budget on how it would plan to cover UTSU services alongside VUSAC ones.
Another concern was how VUSAC would advocate on behalf of its students to players such as provincial governments and other lobbying groups. Aside from the idea of a more transparent St. George Roundtable, VUSAC’s Education and Equity Commissioner, Jade Huguenin, also talked of how the commission would be restructured to take on a bigger role of advocacy on behalf of Victoria College.
Shoaib Alli, president of VUSAC, promised that the changes to their constitution from a potential secession would be published online, and that they would also be “binding.” He was also confident that VUSAC would be able to adapt quickly to the transition from UTSU representation to VUSAC representation, stating that “as soon as reforms are in place, they are constitutionally mandated to happen, and as soon as they are constitutionally mandated to happen, they will be acted upon.”
Potential Legal Action and Changes
Corey Scott, VP Internal at UTSU, was also at the meeting as an observer and said that the issues with VUSAC are still “not clear” and that this motion to secede “kind of popped out of nowhere.” Alli countered this, saying that VUSAC had endorsed “earlier electoral reform policy” and had been thinking about seceding early on as well. Ultimately, Alli feels that UTSU has “demonstrated a fundamental failure” to understand what Victoria College wants.
Alli also mentioned there were some changes since the time he had published his report, most notably in terms of the collaboration between the dividing colleges and faculty with the potential for joint health and dental plans between seceding units that would be implemented in the 2013-2014 year. This was part of the answer to a question raised by UTSU’s Victoria College director, Shak Gobert, about the feasibility of implementing separate health and dental plans. A stronger possibility for a joint plan would mean that previous claims regarding higher premiums for Victoria College students (in case of injury) would not necessarily apply anymore.
Finally, Alli made a statement regarding UTSU’s threat of legal action, saying, “they do not have any ground to stand on because we are not governed by UTSU by-laws, but rather U of T by-laws.” He also mentioned that in meeting with the University Affairs Board, the UAB said they would consider the results from the referendum.
Scott countered this in a way, stating that while VUSAC is governed by U of T by-laws and UTSU by its own by-laws, “there are certain procedures in place if colleges want to take from our levy.” Both UTSU execs and Alli plan to meet on Saturday March 10 to discuss the next steps.
However, if Victoria College students wanted to extend the referendum to a later date, they could potentially lobby to do so at the next AGM, depending on when it is held in the coming weeks.