Capping a year of political turmoil, Trinity and Victoria University students voted overwhelmingly to sever financial ties with the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) last week.
Referenda for Engineering and St. Michael’s College students were still in progress as of The Varsity’s press time. The engineers’ referendum closes Wednesday at 8 pm, and St. Mikes’ referendum will run from Wednesday to Friday.
Trinity voted overwhelmingly for fee diversion, with 72 per cent of students in favour and 33 per cent voter turnout.
The Victoria referendum had a lower turnout, at 11.8 per cent, falling short of a 15 per cent target for the referendum to be binding set in the run-up to the vote. Still, 61 per cent of voters at Victoria cast ballots in favour of fee diversion.
The results are expected to go the University Affairs Board (UAB) of the Governing Council. UAB has ultimate authority in deciding whether fees will be diverted from the UTSU to the college councils.
Union’s muted response
The union has maintained its refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the referenda, and declined offers from the divisions to run the ‘no’ campaigns.
In its only public statement on ‘secession,’ outgoing vice-president, internal & services Corey Scott reiterated the union’s call for further discussions with dissatisfied members and questioned the referenda’s basis, suggesting that UTSU membership “does not run through the college to which you belong, or the faculty in which you’re enrolled.” Scott’s statement also expressed concern that “if individual students seceded, those students would become ‘free riders,’” subsidized by the remaining paying members.
Incoming UTSU president Munib Sajjad declined to answer a number of questions on the referenda, including what action, if any, he intended to pursue to keep Victoria and Trinity from leaving.
Sajjad declined to indicate whether he would ask the university administration to reject the referenda results, and whether the UTSU would send a representative to the UAB meeting to discuss the issue.
Trinity will be holding a meeting on Monday and Victoria on Friday to discuss the results of the referenda. Sajjad did not indicate whether he intended to attend either meeting, or to send a representative. Sajjad released a short statement, saying, “My team and I are looking to reach out to student representatives across our campuses. We want to truly open the lines of communication and promote all the great work that students are doing all across our great school.”
Behind the scenes, Sajjad and former UTSU president Danielle Sandhu engaged in an effort to win over levy-receiving groups such as sec and Bikechain and have them publicly oppose fee diversion. Instead, the levied groups released an open letter saying that while they were concerned that none of the units seeking defederation had approached them for meetings or contingency planning, the undersigned groups “respect the right of students to voice their political dissent.”
Uncertainty at Victoria
The Trinity referendum is automatically binding. The road forward for Victoria College is less clear, because 15 per cent turnout was required for its outcome to be considered binding.
A joint meeting of the incoming and outgoing VUSAC executive will meet Friday to decide whether the results will take force for next year.
Outgoing VUSAC president Shoaib Alli said that 7.2 per cent of eligible voters at Victoria voted to defederate. Consequently, regardless of how the additional 0.6 per cent students required to meet quorum voted, a majority would still have voted to leave the UTSU.
Alli stressed that this was only one of several factors VUSAC would consider. The 22 executives eligible to vote will meet Friday April 5 at 5.15 pm to make a final decision.
The VUSAC referendum was quieter than that of Trinity’s, with “effectively no Yes or No campaigns,” Alli said.
Dylan Moore briefly registered a Yes campaign at Victoria, but withdrew before the campaign period ended.
Moore, who was a candidate for vice-president, external, with last year’s Students First slate, posted an open letter on Facebook detailing his concerns with defederation. Moore generally agreed that the problems with the UTSU are endemic, but took issue with VUSAC’s ability to handle the fee reallocation. Moore urged Victoria students to “weigh the concerns expressed about the UTSU against whatever concerns one may have about VUSAC as an organization, and about the unintended consequences of fee diversion.”
Jubilation at Trinity
The 33 per cent voter turnout at Trinity surprised many, including co-head of college Sam Greene, who hopes it will help convince UAB to approve the results.
“As a matter of university policy the university has tended to respect the results of free and fair referenda initiated by students,” said Greene.
There were robust Yes and No campaigns at Trinity.
The Yes campaign, led by co-head-elect Ben Crase, had a sophisticated get-out-the-vote mechanism. Students could register with the Yes campaign to receive a text message reminding them to vote, as well a sign up for reminders via email and Facebook.
Crase said the Yes campaign had been “working tirelessly” to address concerns raised by
The No campaign, led by fourth-year student Mark Harris, also utilized social media to reach
out to students.
Both campaigns had $500 to spend to convince students. Referendum cro Devyn Noonan received no complaints from either side throughout the process.
The only procedural issue brought to light concerned the online voting system. Some students had trouble casting their ballot, particularly when the EngSoc and Trinity referenda were simultaneously hosted on the same website.
“When the engineering referendum started there were a few crashes over the day,” said Noonan, who was confident that while delays may have frustrated some students, there were no problems with the elections themselves. Several Engineering students also complained about delays with the online voting system.
St. Michael’s College is set to proceed with a referendum later this week, in spite of the belated release of a report examining the feasibility of defederation. The report, prepared by outgoing president Mike Cowan, was not officially endorsed by the smcsu.
There remain other lingering questions over the future of fee diversion.
Sajjad and the UTSU have repeatedly declined to indicate whether they would pursue legal action to stop colleges from separating. All of the parties involved have retained legal counsel, and allocated money for the probability of a courtroom battle.
All sides maintain that their legal position is strong.
The UAB has previously approved referenda with similar turnouts to those seen at Trinity and Victoria. Given the number of students now seeking a financial exit from the central student union, however, there are several contentious issues at play, and it is unclear to what extent any precedent might apply.
Even if UAB approves the fee diversion, significant work remains to be done over the summer as colleges prepare to administer health and dental insurance and offer a host of other services and responsibilities that are currently the domain of the UTSU.