No response from UTSU as University Affairs Board set to consider defederation on May 28

Vice-provost, students has asked UTSU for comment by May 13

The University Affairs Board (UAB) will meet on May 28, and defederation is likely to be on the agenda. Meanwhile, the UTSU has not yet responded to a letter from vice-provost, students, Jill Matus, requesting the union’s position on the referenda at Trinity College, the Engineering Society (EngSoc), and Victoria College. Each of these divisions voted in favour of fee diversion by a substantial majority of those who voted.

“It is clear that a significant number of students, who have organized themselves in coherent groups at the divisional society level, are taking serious and demonstrable issue with the allocation of UTSU fees” said Matus in a letter sent to then-president Shaun Shepherd on April 5.

In an email to The Varsity, Matus said she had not yet received a response from the union. In the letter Matus requested a reply by May 13, so that she could consider her position for the May 28 meeting. Update: UTSU President Munib Sajjad said the union replied on May 13. He did not provide details as to the content of the reply.

The UAB is a committee of Governing Council. The vice-provost’s influence will likely have a large impact on the outcome.


No word yet from the UTSU

UTSU president Munib Sajjad said that that the union is hoping to meet with student societies in order to create “a more positive atmosphere on campus.” Sajjad said that the union is “hoping this will all be resolved among the students as I believe every college and faculty council elected reps are looking to work to build a positive relationship with the UTSU. The U of T administration should respect our autonomy and our democratic processes in our work to collaborate with all student societies and resolving any point of concern our members may have.”

The union has maintained that the referenda have no force or effect, as they were not authorized within UTSU’s bylaws.

In her letter Matus indicated concerns about the union’s stance, saying, “The position that has been taken to date by UTSU with respect to referendum has been troubling.”

She goes on to question the UTSU’s internal procedures, including mechanisms for dissatisfied students to express their concern, and what plans the UTSU has to address those concerns.

“We have stated from time and time again that we are not an organization built of federated college bodies … we represent all full-time undergraduates at St. George and Mississauga,” said Sajjad, arguing that only referenda held under UTSU by-laws are valid for changes in UTSU membership. Sajjad has not confirmed that the union has received the letter or said how the union will respond. Nor has he explained what the union will do to resolve the situation without the administration becoming involved.

Union executives, past and present, have often cited a judge’s ruling in the Erindale Part-Time Undergraduate Students’ Association (EPUS) v. UTMSU case as a clear legal precedent supporting their position. Matus’ letter also questions this, stating that students “are not approaching this as a membership issue, thus differentiating it from the EPUS court decision.”


CFS Weighs In

Further complicating matters, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) has weighed in on the issue publicly for the first time.

Sarah King, chairperson of CFS-Ontario, told The Varsity that a U of T-wide referendum would need to take place in order to change the university’s CFS membership. This is particularly relevant as the referenda at both Trinity and EngSoc indicate a desire to no longer pay the CFS fee.

National deputy chairperson Adam Awad (who served as the UTSU president from 2009–2011), agreed with King, stating in an email that, “The Federation’s membership fees are separate and distinct from any local students’ union fees.”

Awad went on to say that even if students were to leave the UTSU, “they continue to be members of the Federation.”


Lack of dialogue

Earlier this year, the UTSU met with the Victoria University Students Administrative Council (VUSAC) before the final VUSAC meeting on April 5 to discuss representation and fee diversion.

According to the minutes of this meeting, UTSU members “refused to speak” to any proposals VUSAC put forth regarding the specificities of fee diversion. VUSAC ratified its referendum results at its April 5 meeting.

Zack Medow, VUSAC’s VP external, is quoted in the minutes as saying, “for about half an hour we proposed a plan and UTSU “refused to speak to it.” Jelena Savic, the incoming president for VUSAC, said the major item discussed with Sajjad and VP Internal Cameron Whathey was UTSU’s representation on Victoria campus, with an agreement reached to have stronger UTSU representation at Vic meetings in the future.

Mauricio Curbelo, president of EngSoc, stated that he has not heard from the UTSU since the EngSoc referendum, which took place more than a month ago. Ben Crase, co-head of Trinity College, echoed a similar sentiment, saying that the union has not been proactive with regard to communicating with the Trinity College Meeting (TCM).


Some divisions acting on referenda

While it remains unclear how the UTSU will respond to the various referenda in the coming weeks, student societies such as the TCM, EngSoc and VUSAC are proceeding with plans to implement fee diversion.

Since the referendum passed with 72 per cent of the vote at Trinity, the TCM has elected a transitional council that will plan how fee diversion will move forward at Trinity. Both EngSoc and the TCM have communicated with the administration in order to comply with the university’s procedures on fee changes.

The two councils are technically asking for different things from the administration. EngSoc seeks to re-route fees ordinarily paid to the UTSU  to the Society itself, while the TCM is seeking to cancel its members’ UTSU fee and in turn increase the TCM fee. These student societies will ultimately take over the UTSU’s fees and provision of its services.


Victoria To Wait

While the TCM and EngSoc are proceeding with their respective fee diversions, Victoria is not planning to act on their referendum results until September 2014.

VUSAC ratified the results of its referendum on fee diversion in a non-binding manner on April 5, 2013, with 15 council members voting in favour, and eight against in a secret ballot. The ratification by the VUSAC executive was required as voter turnout fell below the 15 per cent threshold required for the referendum to be binding.

“The thing to keep in mind is that VUSAC is about a year behind the TCM and EngSoc on fee diversion,” said Medow. “Nothing is set in stone, and the only thing we can do is discuss and figure it out.” Medow explained that VUSAC plans to undertake a year-long review process in which it plans to consult with students through more general meetings and focus groups. According to VUSAC president Savic, VUSAC will also be meeting with its college bursar in the coming weeks to discuss fee diversion specifics. A report is expected by the end of the next year that would provide a full spectrum of how fee diversion would work at Victoria College.

Matus stated that while the administration is aware of a third referendum at Victoria College, VUSAC has not contacted the administration.


Uncertainty at St. Mikes’

The St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU) is on a similar track. Outgoing president Mike Cowan stated in the council’s final meeting of the academic year that a referendum will be postponed to next year.

His successor, Alexander Zappone, said there is a plan to set up a referendum committee that will gather information and properly inform students about fee diversion. The date of the referendum has not been set, and Zappone stated that it will happen either in the SMCSU by-elections in the fall, or with the spring SMCSU elections.

The student population at SMC appears to be less engaged with these issues than their counterparts at the TCM or EngSoc. Zappone commented that while there are some very strong proponents of fee diversion, “the problem remains on how to get other constituents excited and interested in the issue.”

The extent to which the administration may become involved in the future remains unclear. Matus wrote that the administration “remains hopeful” that student societies will be able to resolve these issues on their own, and that the administration hopes to remain in contact with all the relevant student societies, adding that the issues around the referenda are “complex and unprecedented.”


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