On the evening of the Student Societies Summit, the student divisions seeking to divert fees from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), have written a joint letter outlining their position.
Benjamin Crase and Maha Naqi, co-heads of Trinity College; Jelena Savic, president of Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC); and Mauricio Curbelo, president of the Engineering Society (EngSoc) have submitted a joint letter outlining their position on the matter of defederation from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). The letter, along with any other written submissions, will be shared with all attendees of Monday’s summit.
The three groups cite the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) campus’ ceasing fee payment to the Students’ Administrative Council (SAC,UTSU’s predecessor) in 2004 as precedent for their request. UTSC’s referendum garnered 62.2 per cent support for cessation of membership with eight per cent voter turnout. The EngSoc referendum had 95 per cent support with 30 per cent voter turnout; the Trinity College Meeting (TCM) referendum, 72 per cent support with 33 per cent turnout; and the VUSAC referendum, 61 per cent support with 12 per cent turnout. Sarah Worku, president of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), does not feel this is a reasonable comparison. Worku believes that the separation of the sac and the SCSU was primarily because the St. George and Scarborough campuses are inconveniently geographically distant from each other. “The separation of the SCSU from sac is different and unique because this was a mutual decision between both organizations,” she says “The separation of the SCSU was utilized as a tool to outreach to our members more efficiently and to better administer our services.”
The letter centres around two policies the three organizations propose for the summit: first, the university ought to give “recognized constituencies” (faculties, colleges, or the Mississauga campus) the right to end fee payment to the UTSU through a referendum process involving only students who are members of the constituency in question. Second, the UTSU, must retroactively recognize the 2013 referenda by the TCM, VUSAC, and the EngSoc to divert fees from the UTSU to their own administrations. “The guiding principle behind these two proposals is that natural constituencies within the UTSU should have a right to self-determination regarding their governance, and fees that are collected on their behalf,” reads the letter, “It is undemocratic for the UTSU to maintain a constitution and bylaws that prohibit such a right to self-determination when large numbers of students have clearly indicated dissatisfaction with the UTSU’s current model.”
Three reasons supporting these policy changes follow the proposals. The parties who wish to divert fees argue that constituencies within the UTSU must have a mechanism by which they can choose whether to pay fees to the union. Absent such a mechanism, they argue, the UTSU could be free to ignore the interests of certain minority groups or constituencies. Furthermore, they contend that instituting this mechanism would increase solidarity in student government, as smaller organizations would be more likely to cooperate with the UTSU if their democratic rights are recognized — either because they decide to cease fee payment to the union because they object to its performance, or because they take comfort in having the option to do so.
The UTSU’s position going into the summit remains the same. UTSU president Munib Sajjad indicated his optimism about the summit, and his deisre to: “strengthen our relationships and build to serve our collective membership better.” Sajjad remains concerned about who is invited to the summit: “We are disappointed that many of the Union’s stakeholders are not able to participate. These include the UTSU-recognized clubs and service groups. We feel that the accounts from the groups will provide a perspective that has been sidelined in these discussions.”
Sajjad will not represent the UTSU at the summit. Agnes So, vice-president, university affairs and Yollen Bollo-Kamara, vice-president, equity – will attend on behalf of the union.
With files from Jelena Djuric, Teodora Avramov & Trevor Koroll